Trump’s Pick for Ambassador to Israel Stirs Controversy

Today’s Top Stories

*** Breaking news *** Just before this roundup was published, residents of Amona agreed to leave the unauthorized outpost for a nearby location. The High Court of Justice had ruled that Amona was built on private Palestinian-owned land and ordered the outpost demolished by December 25. The agreement heads off fears of violence had police and soldiers forcefully evacuated residents. Take your pick of Jerusalem Post, YNet, Haaretz and Times of Israel coverage.

1. Raising new controversy, Donald Trump nominated adviser David Friedman — a real estate and bankruptcy lawyer — as ambassador to Israel. Creating a lot of buzz, a statement issued by the President-elect’s transition team quoted Friedman saying:

“I intend to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

The New York Times had a surprising amount of detail about Trump and Friedman’s personal relationship. The move has split the Israeli right and left and was denounced by the Palestinians. See below for all the commentary.

A number of emails from HR readers judged the media’s scrutiny of Friedman disproportionate (especially the New York Times for articles 1, 2, 3, 4, plus AP and Reuters), but as NY Times Jerusalem bureau chief Peter Baker’s recall to the US suggests, the news industry is going into full court press coverage with Trump. Going forward, the question is whether Trump’s future ambassadorial nominees will get the same scrutiny.

David Friedman

David Friedman

2. Tunisian media is blaming the Mossad for the death of an aviation scientist and engineer who had been helping Hamas develop aerial drones. Mohammed Al-Zoari was shot multiple times at point blank range by unknown assailants near his home in the Tunisian city of Sfax. Times of Israel coverage. According to YNet, Zoari was reportedly working on a remote control submarine, and that a security camera outside his home was allegedly hacked as well.

Acknowledging Zoari’s ties, Hamas vowed vengeance on Israel, which hasn’t confirmed or denied anything, but Yossi Melman doesn’t think the hit was professional enough to attribute to the Mossad.

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money3. PA Prime Minister accused the US of “imposing an economic siege” on the Palestinians by transferring absolutely no financial aid to the Palestinians in 2016. But the State Dept. debunked the claim to the Times of Israel with a pretty specific breakdown.

The US does not deliver aid money directly into the PA’s coffers. Instead, to avoid possible misuse of funds, particularly to pay the salaries of convicted terrorists, the US channels aid into specific projects.


For example, the US can directly pay PA contractors who work on water or electricity infrastructure, and pay bills for schools and hospitals . . .


The Palestinian Authority’s leaders are open about their policy of providing salaries and other benefits to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including those convicted by Israeli civil courts of murder and terrorism, as well as to their families if they are killed while carrying out their attacks.


But the PA argues that since 2014, these funds have been paid through the Palestine Liberation Organization, not the PA’s own budget, and so are not drawn from foreign donor governments’ development grants. Critics note that the heads of the PA and PLO are the same individuals, and say the PLO uses PA funds for the payments.

Contrast all that with Haaretz, which reports that the UK is restricting aid to the Palestinians. London isn’t buying into Ramallah’s soporific distinctions between the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

4. EXCLUSIVE: HR Exposes Accredited Journalist as BDS Activist: Antony Loewenstein’s press credentials raise questions about The Guardian, Foreign Press Association and the Government Press Office.


Israel and the Palestinians

• Sweden ‘to seek anti-settlement resolution’ during Security Council presidency in January.

The Security Council presidency rotates between member states on a monthly basis. Even if it gathers enough votes, a resolution against Israel is likely to be shot down by Washington, which holds veto power at the council, though Israel’s leaders have said they have some concern that the outgoing Obama administration might be less inclined to use its veto on a milder anti-Israel resolution in its final days in office.

YNet: Hamas is using kites attached with GoPro cameras to surveil IDF movements and Israeli communities along the Gaza border.

Associated Press• Memo to the Associated Press: If you’re going to report on European Union complaints against Israel’s demolition of Palestinian structures (many of which you acknowledge are funded by the EU), the least you can do is balance out your coverage to acknowledge Israel’s point that EU funding for Palestinian structures violates international law.

• New 5.5 km Kinneret-Beit Shean pipeline will double Israel’s supply of water to Jordan in exchange for future desalinated water from Aqaba:

The laying of the new pipeline is of critical importance for Jordan. Due to the ongoing civil war in Syria, millions of refugees have flocked to Jordan, resulting in a real water crisis which has made the need to increase water supply more vital than ever.

• Israel returned the bodies of seven Palestinians killed in security incidents, but still holds three corpses of attackers affiliated with Hamas.

Mideast Matters

Avigdor Liberman

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman

• I may be wrong, but I think this is the first time a senior Israeli official openly voiced this view about the Syrian civil war:

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday that Israel’s interest lay in “having both Assad and the Iranians out of Syria.”

• Outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged Turtle Bay’s “disproportionate volume of resolutions, reports and conferences criticizing Israel.” He made these comments while urging the Knesset not pass legislation legalizing unauthorized settlement outposts.

• Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid discussed the peace process in a Washington Post Q+A.

Around the World

• The US expanded its immigration fraud indictment of convicted terrorist Rasmieh Odeh, as new factual allegations may make it easier for prosecutors to obtain a conviction. Prof. William Jacobson explains why and what it means.

• Australian man charged over terror offences allegedly made videos of ‘how to kill Jews.’

• A prominent Turkish Jewish author Beki Ikala Erikli was shot and killed outside her Istanbul apartment building. The Jewish community is concerned it was anti-Semitic attack, according to YNet. Police have detained a 31-year-old female suspect who reportedly confessed to the murder. More at Hurriyet and the Times of Israel.


Channel 2 newscaster Lucy Ahrish switched from Hebrew to English to blast Western inaction over Aleppo — singling out France, Germany, Britain, the US and UN

“I am ashamed as a human being that we chose leaders who are incapable of being articulate in their condemnation and powerful in their action. I am ashamed that the Arab world is being taken hostage by terrorists and murderers and that we are not doing anything. I am ashamed that the peaceful majority of humanity is irrelevant once again.”

• More commentary on the anguish of Aleppo:

Hanin Ghaddar: Stop calling the Syrian conflict a ‘civil war.’ It’s not.
Marc Schulman: Aleppo: What have we done?
Zvi Bar’el: Aleppo Massacre: Assad is only getting started
Seth Frantzman: How the Syrian regime won the tragic, symbolic battle
Elliott Abrams: How to support democracy in the Arab world (click via Google News)

• Plenty of spilled ink and burnt pixels weighing in on Trump, Friedman, the embassy, and the fallout for Israel-Diaspora ties:

Gary Rosenblatt: Israelis are for Trump; US Jews are from Venus
Herb Keinon: Trump’s ambassador pick is cause for Netanyahu to celebrate
Daniel Kurtzer: Donald Trump’s Israel ambassador pick is hazardous to peace
Aaron David Miller: Trump’s new ambassador to Israel heralds radical change in policy
Jonathan Tobin: Can Trump really move the embassy?
Chemi Shalev: For Trump, moving embassy to Jerusalem is tempting but risky
Cal Thomas: U.S.-Israel relations set to improve
New Daily News (staff-ed): Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel is not a diplomat

• Tweet of the day goes to Kamel Amin Thaabet, responding to this New York Times staff-ed:

• Here’s what else I’m reading today . . .

Moshe Yaalon: How to build Middle East peace
Shmuel Rosner: No, settlers don’t control Israeli politics
Emily Landau: What Trump should do with the Iran deal
Michael Gove: Left’s hatred of Israel is racism in disguise
Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman: A bill to police campus speech (click via Google News)


Featured image: CC BY-NC-SA Rob with additions by HonestReporting; Friedman via YouTube/Michal Michelle Divon; money CC BY-SA 401(K) 2012; Liberman CC BY-SA Saeima;


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