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Trump's ambassador to Israel plays a risky political game

Trump's ambassador to Israel is politicizing his post in ways without precedent, proving his many critics from last year right.
Image: US to move of Embassy to Jerusalem
epa06369212 (FILE) - US President Donald Trump touches the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City, 22 May 2017, (reissued 05...

Since his election, Donald Trump has consistently prioritized personal ties over qualifications when choosing officials. One of the first examples of this came to the fore when the president chose his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

The nomination was not without controversy -- the editorial board of the New York Times described him as a "dangerous choice" -- and nearly every Senate Democrat opposed his confirmation. Senate Republicans, however, ignored the concerns and gave him the job.

A year later, Friedman is helping prove his critics right. The Times of Israel  reported yesterday:

Republicans are undoubtedly better friends of Israel than Democrats are, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Wednesday, lambasting the Democratic Party for failing to sufficiently mobilize its constituents to support the Jewish state."The argument that I hear from some Democrats that Republicans are seizing the pro-Israel mantle is true, to a certain extent. There's no question Republicans support Israel more than Democrats," Friedman told The Times of Israel."What the Democrats are not doing is looking at themselves critically and acknowledging the fact that they have not been able to create support within their constituency for Israel at the same levels that the Republicans have," he went on.

The ambassador may not fully appreciate the political risks he's taking with quotes like these. Israel's allies in the United States have long taken steps to ensure that support for the country is bipartisan, and for Friedman to play petty games like this puts that in jeopardy.

Or put another way, perhaps Trump's diplomat in Jerusalem would be better off trying to be diplomatic.

Former Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.), chairman of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said in a statement, "It is truly unprecedented for a sitting U.S. Ambassador to Israel to engage in explicitly partisan rhetoric and behavior.... Ambassador Friedman must remember that he is not the head of the Republican National Committee or the Republican Jewish Coalition political organization. He is the U.S. Ambassador, as confirmed by the U.S. Senate, to represent all Americans in Israel -- not just those of one party, or those who share his political views."

For those unfamiliar with Friedman's background, this Vox piece from December 2016 is worth revisiting.

Friedman has called the two-state solution "a suicidal 'peace' with hateful radical Islamists hell bent on Israel's destruction." American Jews who support that approach, are in Friedman's eyes, "worse" than kapos -- Jews who helped the Nazis run concentration camps in exchange for special privileges.Friedman has, by his own telling, used this comparison repeatedly. When asked to repudiate it earlier in December, he refused. "Mr. Friedman declined to disavow the comments and even intensified the sentiment," the New York Times reports.So Friedman openly sides against longstanding American policy towards Israel, insults Jews who disagree with him in some of the most offensive terms possible, and has zero formal diplomatic experience.... It's still hard to imagine a more destabilizing pick for one of the most sensitive diplomatic posts in the world.

During his confirmation hearings, Friedman suggested to senators that his most provocative assessments were little more than personal opinions from years past, which wouldn't shape his work as an ambassador.

Those assurances, evidently, may not have been entirely true.