Thursday, March 30, 2017

Only In America

Swearing in ceremony of the new US ambassador to Israel (TOI)
I have to admit that I felt a strong sense of pride this morning when I viewed yesterday’s swearing in of America’s new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. (See the video below) I was proud of being a Jew and in particular a religious Jew. I was also proud of being an American and proud of my country. What both the Vice President said and Mr. Friedman said would have been enough. Although past administrations have expressed similar sentiments about Israel and the Jewish people – including the last one under President Obama, this particular one has far more meaning to me.

Here was a man that is a known Orthodox Jew whose views are not the politically correct liberal ones. They are more in line with those of the Prime Minister of Israel who views settling the land of Israel as a value. Not as an evil. As such Mr. Friedman has in the past financially supported Jewish cities that are on the West Bank.

One can debate the wisdom of supporting settlement activity at this time. But one cannot debate the Jewish right to settle all of the land of Israel which was given to us by God. Although I do not think it wise to expand settlement activity at this time, I do not, however, think it is inherently wrong. And neither does the current administration.  In a just world, Jews and Palestinians should be able to live wherever they choose. On both sides of the ‘Green Line’.

Mr. Friedman was chosen quickly by the President to represent the United States in Israel. (He was nominated on January 20th -  the President’s first day in office. (And was finally confirmed by the senate a short while ago.)

It is a tribute to Mr. Friedman’s integrity and loyalty to the United States that he will represent its policies even when he may not agree with them. So that the administration’s position that settlement activity be held off, will be the position Mr. Friedman will advocate on America’s behalf.

The actual swearing in was done with his hand placed on what looked like a Tanach. It was held by his wife. There were Kipa clad people in the audience. I assume they were either family or close friends. Interestingly, what appeared to be his grandchildren milling around him during the ceremony – were wearing Charedi style large velvet Kipot. This says a lot about his commitment not only to Israel but to Judaism. It also says a lot about the Charedi influence in Modern Orthodoxy of which Mr. Friedman is very likely a member. He wore a Kipa Seruga when he placed his hand on that Tanach. I’m pretty sure that he raised his children with a Modern Orthodox Hashkafa, and yet at least one of them have become Charedi. But that is a subject of another discussion.

Whatever one wants to say about President Trump one cannot deny his lifelong commitment to Israel and the Jewish people. Especially Orthodox ones. He has surrounded himself with Orthodox Jews in business and now in his Presidency. His son in law Jared is an observant Jew that was raised in an Orthodox home and attended an Orthodox day school and high school. His own daughter had an Orthodox conversion and is observant, too. She just got named a senior adviser to the President with her own office in the West Wing.

A lot - perhaps even most of the criticism of the President is legitimate. But I don’t think anyone can challenge his philo-semitic credentials. The people he has chosen for high office are themselves very pro-Israel. Starting with the Vice President and including (and certainly not ending with) the appointment of Nikki Haley to the high profile position of US Ambassador to the United Nations.

It’s too bad that all of this good will is over-shadowed by the antics of a man who is his own worst enemy.  His political opponents are having a field day with that. While the President is guilty of bringing this criticism upon himself with tweets full of lies and distortions - it is equally clear to me that his political opponents are using all of that to forward their own political agenda. Not that I blame them. But it is a fact of life nonetheless.

Will the President last in office? Will all of the committees investigating him (or more accurately his people) now find evidence of impeachable offenses? I honestly don’t know. Wouldn’t surprise me either way. But with respect to American polices toward Israel nothing will change even if the power of the Presidency is transferred to the Vice President. Whose commitment to Israel is just as strong. If not stronger.

Not sure I would feel that way if the new Democratic Party were in charge. Their support for Israel has waned ever since Netanyahu dared to criticize the last President - who was a Democrat. Democratic animosity towards Netanyahu - Israel’s longest sitting prime minister - peaked when he criticized Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Which Netanyahu and many experts on Iran (not exclusively Republican) saw as appeasement of a country universally acknowledged to be responsible for spreading terrorism all over the world. A deal which did nothing to address that. And did nothing to stop Iran’s eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons. At most it only slowed them down. Nor did it address Iran’s development of the means to deliver them. Not only to Israel who they’ve sworn to wipe off the map. But even to ‘The Great Satan’ - America!

That waning support was made obvious by the last administration’s abstention from a vote in the UN condemning Israeli settlement activity. A condemnation which blamed Israel as the primary impediment to peace. With barely a mention of any Palestinian responsibility. As was the recent appointment of a Muslim vice chairman of the Democratic Party that has been highly critical of Israel. So while support for Israel is waning on the Democratic side - on the Republican side it is swelling.

In the meantime, I remain with a sense of pride that so many observant Jews have been entrusted by the President to serve this country at the highest levels of government. God bless the United States of America.