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Trump’s pick for Israeli ambassador papers over his radical past

He’s led fundraising for an actual settlement.

David Friedman, nominated to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
David Friedman, nominated to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, said he did not support the annexation of the West Bank during his hearing on Thursday. The declaration is pretty strange, given his history as president of the fundraising arm of a religious Jewish settlement deep in West Bank territory.

Asked by Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Friedman said he didn’t support annexing the West Bank.

“Will you advocate for Israeli annexation of the West Bank or of land in the West Bank?” Coons asked.

“I will not,” Friedman replied.

Friedman also said that he believes the two state solution is the “path that has reached the most thought and effort and consideration.”

The stance is odd, considering Friedman’s past comments. When asked by Israeli paper Haaretz about annexing parts of the West Bank last year, Friedman, a then-adviser to Trump on Israel, said:

“I think there are parts of the West Bank that will stay part of Israel in any peace deal. I am sure he wouldn’t have any problem with that at all. Regarding the entire West Bank I think that’s a legal issue. I don’t think he will have a problem with that but he would expect Israel to continue seeking peace. He has no doubt that Israel wants peace.”

Friedman quickly switched his views on annexation while facing Congress. Even if Friedman is against annexing the West Bank, he’s done more to make it possible than any prior pick for his role.

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Friedman is the “American fund-raising arm of Beit El’s yeshiva complex, he has raised millions of dollars for its related institutions, including housing projects for teachers and students,” according to the New York Times. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has contributed at least $20,000 to the American Friends of Bet El, which was built on private Palestinian land without permission.

When asked about American Friends of Bet El later in the hearing, he said that his “philanthropic work” with the organization was not political.

Friedman’s comments further obscure what U.S. foreign policy toward Israel will actually look like under a Trump administration. His support for a two-state solution came literally one day after Trump said he “could live with either” a one or two-state solution.

Friedman is a concerning nominee for ambassador to Israel — and for any hopes of a two-state solution actually happening. In the past, Friedman has used a religious slur to describe members of the Jewish community with left-leaning political views. He has called Obama an anti-Semite, criticized the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement as anti-Semitic, and said he doesn’t actually know how many Palestinians there are.