Jewish or a democratic state?


The left should welcome Donald Trump’s nomination of David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel, writes Tony Greenstein

David Friedman: with Donald and Ivanka Trump

If you listen to the pro-Israel lobby group J-Street, which was formed in 2007 as a more ‘liberal’ alternative to the pro-Likud American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other liberal mainstream Zionists, then the nomination of bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, as the new US ambassador to Israel marks the beginning of the end of the world as we know it.

Friedman is on record as calling J-Street ‘worse than kapos’. In an article for the settler news agency Arutz Sheva,1 he responded to criticism by a liberal Zionist, Peter Beinart, by asking rhetorically: ‘are J-Street supporters really as bad as kapos?’  The answer, actually, is no. They are far worse than kapos – Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps.’

In the same op-ed, Friedman spoke of “how dangerous the Jewish left is to the State of Israel”, describing them as “the lost souls who blame Israel for not making a suicidal ‘peace’ with hateful radical Islamists hell bent on Israel’s destruction.” Bear in mind that what Friedman terms “the Jewish left” is not what most people would consider as being on the left.

The term ‘kapos’ is a favourite insult of Zionists. It used to be reserved for Jewish anti-Zionists but is now increasingly used against liberal Zionists. Anyone who is not an out-and-out racist or Jewish supremacist is in danger of being accused of being a ‘kapos’. The kapos, for those unfamiliar with the term, were prisoners in the Nazi extermination or concentration camps who were made trustees or foremen. In return for a little more food or favourable treatment, they were expected to supervise other inmates, and some of them, not all, developed a reputation for cruelty. If they didn’t beat others, they were beaten instead.

The Zionist use of the term ‘kapos’ is somewhat ironic since Zionism was a movement that voluntarily co-operated and collaborated with the Nazis. The kapos behaved as they did under extreme coercion and fear for their lives. Their life expectancy was not a great deal more than that of other prisoners. Many of them were not Jewish anyway, but ordinary German criminals.

Not only did the Zionist movement enter into a trade agreement, Ha’avara, with the Nazis in August 1933, undermining the international Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany in return for effectively free German industrial goods paid for by German Jews, but it opposed, and did its best to undermine, any attempt to rescue Jews if the destination was other than Palestine. David Ben Gurion, chair of the Jewish Agency and first prime minister of Israel, explained, in the wake of the Nazi pogrom Kristallnacht on November 9-10 1938, in a memo sent to the Jewish Agency executive on December 17 1938, that:

if the Jews are faced with a choice between the refugee problem and rescuing Jews from concentration camps on the one hand, and aid for the national museum in Palestine on the other, the Jewish sense of pity will prevail and our people’s entire strength will be directed at aid for the refugees in the various countries. Zionism will vanish from the agenda and indeed not only world public opinion in England and America but also from Jewish public opinion. We are risking Zionism’s very existence if we allow the refugee problem to be separated from the Palestine problem.2

Ben Gurion was true to his word. The Zionists fought ceaselessly against what they termed ‘refugeeism’, the separation of the refugee question from Palestine. When the British government agreed to accept 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Europe, the kindertransport, the Zionists were beside themselves. Ben Gurion told the central committee of Mapai, the Israeli Labour Party, in December 1938 that

If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the People of Israel.3

Friedman is an out-and-out supporter of the settler right in Israel. He is closer to the far-right Habayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party of Naftali Bennett, which is part of the governing coalition, than to the Likud Party of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is ‘a darling of the Israeli right’ and is head of the American Friends of Beit El, an illegal Israeli settlement.4

Although all American presidents have said, before they took office, that they would move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Israel proclaims as its capital, none have done so. This is because the status of Jerusalem is supposed to be the subject of a final status agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Trump and his nominee, however, have made it clear that moving the US embassy, desired by all Zionist governments in Israel, is something that is likely to happen.

According to Abe Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a centrist Zionist group in the United States, “the bad news may be that he has espoused publicly positions which may be to the right of the Israeli society and the current Israeli government position on a two-state solution”.

J-Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami declared that “This nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk”. The Union for Reform Judaism spokesman, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, likewise criticised the appointment because: “Mr Friedman’s personal connection to and support of a number of organizations committed to building additional settlements in the West Bank certainly suggests that he will not be an advocate for a two-state solution”. Jacobs described Friedman as “more extreme than any government of Israel”.5

J-Street issued as statement urging US Senators to veto the appointment, as is within their right, arguing that he was “beyond the pale.”6 It is quite possible, if three Republican senators defect, that Friedman’s nomination could be in jeopardy.

In an interview with Ha’aretz in June, Friedman was asked whether Trump would support an independent Palestinian state. His response was: “not without the approval of the Israelis.” In Friedman’s opinion it is not “an American imperative” for there to be an independent Palestinian state.7

According Daniel Kurtzer, former US ambassador to Israel and Egypt and a Princeton professor, the importance of Friedman’s appointment cannot be overstated. “Everything an ambassador says and does has an impact on policy.” The problem is compounded in his eyes because, whereas usually it is the administration that sets the policy and the ambassador who puts it into practice, there is every sign that Friedman is going to make policy. “The president hasn’t been sworn in yet, the secretary of state hasn’t spoken about this, and he’s already talking about the policy he is going to change,” said Kurtzer. “This is unheard of.”8

The settlers, however, have been effusive in welcoming him. According to Oded Revivi, spokesman for the Yesha settlement council, “Friedman has a deep love for all of the land and people of Israel, including those in Judea and Samaria.”9

Ha’aretz, Israel’s sole liberal paper, is beside itself. In an article by Chemi Shalev, which suggests, somewhat unfairly, that Friedman makes Netanyahu “look like a J-Street lefty” it suggests that, but for his diplomatic immunity, he might be arrested by the Israeli police for incitement. Unfortunately, in a state where the call to set fire to mosques and churches by Benny Gopstein, leader of the fascist Lehava, is met with equanimity by Israel’s forces of law and order, this is a case of hyperbole.10 Of course if Friedman were an Arab, then his feet wouldn’t have touched the floor.11 Chalev lays out the bill of indictment against Friedman thus:

He opposes a two-state solution, supports settlements and advocates annexation, has denigrated president Obama as an anti-Semite, questioned the citizenship of Israeli Arabs, compared J-Street to Holocaust-era kapos and so on. It’s good he’ll be coming with diplomatic immunity. This is not an ambassador that a rational US administration would send if it had any plans whatsoever to advance the peace process. This is an ambassador who will please evangelicals, delight Jewish settlers and bring pleasure to Land of Israel zealots far and wide.

Why therefore do I welcome the proposed appointment of Friedman? Clearly he is not a pleasant individual, either personally or politically. He fits in well with the racism and alt-right anti-Semitism of the Trump administration, to say nothing of its fanatical pro-Zionism.

The reason is quite simple. For over 40 years there has been a ‘peace process’ in the Middle East and in that time, not one inch of Palestine territory has been liberated and in the meantime more than 600,000 settlers have become rooted in the West Bank. The Palestinians of Gaza today live in an open-air prison and the openly far-right in Israel are established in government. The conditions for Palestinians get steadily worse, the occupation tightens, settler attacks on Palestinian civilians are undertaken often with the protection of the Israeli military – and yet we have a ‘peace process’. The chances of a two-states solution are minus zero. Anyone with half a brain should see that. The chances of even a cut-down version of a Bantustan are minimal.

The illusion of a two-states solution is a smokescreen, a cover for continued Israeli military rule over the Palestinians. It also perpetuates the continuation of the quisling administration of the Palestine Authority of Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. The same Abbas who declared that co-operation with the Israeli military is sacred.12 When there was the beginnings of an uprising against Israeli occupation earlier this year, the PA stretched every muscle to put an end to it. It arrested, tortured and drove off the streets, wherever it could, any opposition to Israel’s rule. The PA is a subcontractor to the Israeli military and the sooner it is put out of existence the better. It is time that the two-states solution was buried, as it is an obstacle to liberation. Partition, even if it were feasible, would lead to, in the words of James Connolly, a ‘carnival of reaction’ on both sides of the border.

Without this illusion there can be no doubt in peoples’ eyes that Israel is an apartheid state. There is no possibility that the Palestinians in the occupied territories will be given the vote or any measure of political or civil liberties, and Israel can continue to call itself a Jewish state.

This is precisely what the liberals of J-Street, the ADL and Ha’aretz fear above all. Once the two-states cat is out of the bag then people have to confront a very simple question. Is Israel a Jewish state or a democratic state?


1. ‘Read Peter Beinart and you’ll vote Donald Trump’, June 5 2016,

2. Y Elam Introduction to Zionist history Tel Aviv 1972, pp125-26. See also: Ot, paper of youth cadre of Mapai No2, winter 1967, cited by Machover-Offenburg p58, and Brenner, p149; John Quigley, The case for Palestine: an international law perspective, pp26-27, Duke University Press 2005.

3. Ben-Gurion at the Mapai Central Committee, December 7 1938: Yoav Gelber Zionist policy & the fate of European Jewry 1939-42 p199; Tom Segev The 7th million p28;  Shabtai Teveth The burning ground p855; Gabriel Piterberg The returns of Zionism p99.

4. Jewish Journal December 16 2016

5. ‘From dismay to jubilation, Trump’s pick of David Friedman as Israel envoy splits Jewish response’ Ha’aretz December 16 2016.

6. ‘Trump Picks David Friedman As Ambassador To Israel’,

7. ‘Trump’s pick for envoy to Israel expects embassy in Jerusalem’, 16.12.16.

8. ‘Jewish storm builds over David Friedman’s appointment as Israel ambassador’, Nathan Guttman, Jewish Forward December 18 2016.

9. ‘PLO chief warns of chaos and extremism if US moves embassy to Jerusalem’, Middle East Eye, December 16 2016,

10. ‘Burning of Christian churches in Israel justified, far-right Jewish leader says’,

11. David Friedman, ‘Trump’s radical-right ambassador makes Netanyahu look like a J Street lefty’, Ha’aretz, December 17 2016,

12. ‘Mahmoud Abbas: collaboration with Israeli army, secret police is “sacred”’, Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, May 30 2014. .

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