16 December '16..
“Personnel is policy.” That’s one of the great cliches of Washington staffing, and we have an example of its truth in Donald Trump’s nomination of the New York bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman to be his ambassador to Israel.
Much will be made of the blunt Friedman’s very harsh words about left-wing Jewish groups and about President Obama, and these will be used in an effort to derail his nomination. Friedman wrote an op-ed earlier this year likening JStreet to the kapos—the Jews who worked for the Nazis policing their own people. It was wrong of him to do so, but it’s something in the heat of a rhetorical moment I myself have done in relation to a disgusting Jewish cartoonist who uses images out of Der Sturmer to portray Israelis he doesn’t like, so I can appreciate Friedman’s emotional impulse. That impulse comes from a deep sense of anger at Jews who use their Jewishness as a shield and weapon simultaneously to delegitimize the democratic actions of a democratic Jewish state. It is about defending your people against those who you believe are siding with your people’s enemies. In the case of JStreet, Friedman’s feelings are merited even if his analogy was wrong. (And just as I apologized for my use of the term “kapo,” he’d probably do himself some good if he said he’d gone too far in that case—which would, by the way, give him a second shot at explaining why JStreet is egregious in front of a far larger audience.)
Other arguments will be advanced against his nomination, like the fact that Friedman has no diplomatic experience. This is disingenuous. Every administration appoints ambassadors with no diplomatic experience, and aside from generalized bitching, official Washington accepts the practice without complaint. Besides which, one of the ways people get diplomatic experience is to become appointed diplomats. What this really means is that Friedman is neither a member of the foreign service or of the foreign-policy establishment. Well, big deal. Trump is the president and he need not find his Israeli ambassador from the ranks of the permanent State Department bureaucracy or from the membership list of the Council on Foreign Relations. And unlike many ambassadorial appointments, he’s not being rewarded for his financial support.
Anyway, this is all nonsense. What horrifies those who will oppose Friedman isn’t his opinion of JStreet or his credentials, but the fact that he is an outspoken opponent of the two-state solution, a supporter of Israel’s settlements, and a believer that the law passed 20 years ago should be implemented that moves the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It is axiomatic to America’s liberals that every one of these things is at the very least short-sighted, or counterproductive, or runs contrary to American interests, or will cause terrible trouble for the U.S. in the Arab and Muslim world. But even those objections pale before the moral rage that asserts it is an act of barbaric immorality to oppose the two-state solution. For not only, in the eyes of its supporters, is it the only possible way out of the perpetual state of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, with Jerusalem divided so that it can serve as the capital of the new Palestinian nation, it is the only way to heal the moral stain of Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank.
There isn’t space here to litigate this; Please go back and read the last 40 years of COMMENTARY to discover the 10,000 reasons why such opinions are problematic at best and highly destructive at worst. Suffice it to say that if you believe the current Israel-Palestinian impasse is a stain on Israel’s moral position in the region, you are free to feast on your own self-righteousness, but your perspective is astoundingly askew. Just to take this week alone, there’s a genocide going on about 300 miles to Israel’s northeast, a nightmarish pseudo-caliphate is enslaving women another 200 miles to the east of that, and a barbaric theocracy with a “destroy the Jewish state” doctrine is amassing power another 400 miles further east of that. The idea that Israel, by comparison to its region, is morally compromised is nothing less than unworldly preening.
As it happens, I am a supporter of the two-state solution in theory; but I have eyes to see and ears to hear. If you choose to believe there will be such a solution under current or future conditions absent a wholesale shift in the mindset of the Palestinians, please enjoy your delusion. If you are able to cut through the conventional static to consider a different view and how it might actually make such a shift possible, read Daniel Pipes’s profoundly important new essay in the January COMMENTARY right here.
But back to personnel being policy. The reason Trump has chosen Friedman is that he has evidently decided he wants to up-end the conventional approach toward Israel and the Palestinians and go in a radically different direction. This was not predictable from Trump’s campaign rhetoric, when he talked about being “even-handed” and wanting to make a great real-estate deal. It’s possible he believes he can defibrillate the occluded heart of the “peace process” by approaching the Palestinians from a highly aggressive pro-Israel stance. If he actually wants to make a real deal, pursuing the entirely discredited approach of trying to drag the Palestinians to the table at which they refuse to sit is the worst possible strategy anyway.
The scalp hunters will be out for David Friedman, but if Democrats decide to go to war over this nomination, the joke will be on them. For one thing, blocking or derailing Friedman is a vastly more difficult thing to do now than it would have been otherwise because Senate Democrats, living in a fantasy world in which his party would always hold the presidency, stupidly invoked the nuclear option on executive appointments in July 2013 and have now made the passage of such appointments a matter of a simple majority vote in the Senate. For another, Republicans in Congress (with a 52-48 majority) are the nation’s foremost right-wing Zionists now and will meet any attacks on him with delighted counterattacks and defenses. And finally, should they succeed in derailing him, there are many other prominent Americans who share his views to whom Trump could turn. Personnel is policy. This is the policy the president of the United States wants to pursue. He’ll get the ambassador he wants, and he will pursue the policy he wants. Know why? Because he will be the president.
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