The horrifying normalcy of Donald Trump's proposed ambassador to Israel
David Friedman has said some terrible things — but he couldn't really make America's treatment of Palestinians much worse than it already is
President-elect Donald Trump appears to be going out of his way to make political appointments that will actively horrify any but his most ardent supporters. "Who," one imagines Trump asking himself, "do I want to be my national security advisor? Oh, I know! Crazy Michael Flynn! What about the Energy Department? How about the guy who wanted to abolish the Energy Department?" Like that. Over and over.
What with all the white supremacists, Goldman Sachs executives, and demonstrably inept-but-sycophantic hangers-on, it may be impossible to zero-in on a single appointment as the most egregious example — but surely one of the most egregious choices Trump has made since Nov. 9 is his proposed ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
Much has been written about the nearly innumerable reasons that the Friedman pick is terrible, not least that he's repeatedly leveled the most odious of slurs against Jews who disagree with him on Israel/Palestine — according to Friedman, supporters of the American-Jewish pro-peace lobbying group J Street "aren't Jewish" and are "far worse than" kapos (Jews who collaborated with the Nazis). He's repeatedly alleged that Hillary Clinton advisor Huma Abedin "has well-established ties to the Muslim Brotherhood" (she doesn't), evoked racist caricatures to dismiss Iranians as viable negotiating partners, and, oh right, has literally no diplomatic experience. In regards to this last point, his venomous personal opposition to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often comes up, in no small part because support for such a solution has long been official U.S. policy.
Only occasionally, however, does anyone talk about Friedman's open animosity to the Palestinian people themselves.
It could be (and has been) argued that in choosing Friedman, Trump has merely removed the mask behind which U.S. policy and opinion have long hidden. Over the years American rhetoric has come to at least nominally acknowledge Palestinian rights and human dignity, with many beautiful words about peace and children who deserve to no longer live in fear, but U.S. policies have consistently belied these lovely words, unswervingly privileging (and facilitating) the official Israeli framing of the conflict as one in which Israel and Israel alone may determine the future of the region.
Settlements are built and expanded, human rights abuses mount, and the occupation of what is internationally recognized as Palestinian land continues unrelentingly toward Israeli annexation of the West Bank, even as Israel insists that the Palestinians introduce no "preconditions" to peace negotiations. And then there's the Gaza Strip — which Israel maintains it no longer occupies, and yet the Israeli military is still somehow free to launch military incursions (and all-out wars) at will, as well as strictly controlling the comings and goings of Gaza's 1.8 million residents, along with much of their food and supplies.
With the understanding that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a war, and that in war all sides commit unforgivable acts (I have reported on suicide bombings in which I could very well have been among the dead), we conveniently ignore the fact that one side of this conflict maintains one of the world's most powerful militaries, and the other lives under the daily control of the first in a U.S.-enabled military occupation. Stated baldly, the subtext of American actions and policies has always been that Palestinians just don't matter very much.
This is what the Friedman pick makes manifest. Not that successive U.S. governments have lacked the political will to facilitate the establishment of a secure peace for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples — that's as apparent as the map on your wall — but rather that in the American zeitgeist, Palestinians are second-class humans.
Friedman gleefully disregards actual Palestinian opinion — that they have a right to govern their own affairs, that they have a claim in Jerusalem, that the death toll and abuses they sustain are intolerable — and instead insists they fit into a narrative of his own making, one in which Palestinian aspirations and the cost of their grief can be paid for by "fostering a Palestinian middle-class" — because regardless of political orientation, Palestinians "[don't care] a wit about whether they are governed by [Palestinian President] Abbas or [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu — in their minds it makes no difference and has no effect on their lives." The Palestinians aren't people to David Friedman — they're cartoon villains or toadies whose essential humanity need play no role in any discussion of their future.
Friedman is far from the only political figure in Israel or the U.S. who has the mind-bending audacity to say that "achieving peace with [the Palestinians] has never been about land," far from the only settlement activist to have channeled large sums into maintaining an occupation designed (and serving) to disenfranchise the Palestinian people in their home.
But he would be the first such person to be the face of the American government in Israel. If Friedman is confirmed by the Senate, Americans might not hear the message, but the rest of the world will: Palestinian humanity is none of our concern.