Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Donald Trump, David Friedman and the Predictability of Unpredictability

From almost the first day he tossed his hat into the presidential ring, Donald Trump made it clear that he was going to be unpredictable about . . . well, just about everything. Indeed, as far back as October 2015, Mr. Trump told Fox News' Chris Wallace - in answer to a question about his plans for dealing with the federal debt - "I want to be unpredictable, because, you know, we need unpredictability.  Everything is so predictable with our country."  In January of this year, Fox infotainer Bill O'Reillyasked Trump “If you’re elected president, and you don’t like the [Iranian nuclear] deal, are you gonna bomb their nuclear facilities?” to which the then-front runner responded “Bill, I’m gonna do what’s right . . . I want to be unpredictable.”  

This past March, when asked by the New York Times' David Sager whether he would rule out going to war with China in order to show the country he's serious about trade negotiations, he responded "There' a question I wouldn't want to answer. . . . That's the problem with our country.  A politician would say 'Oh, I'd never go to war," or they'd say 'Oh, I would go to war.' I don't want to say what I'd do, because we need unpredictability." Then in August of this year, Trump told "Face the Nation" host John Dickerson "I want to be unpredictable when it comes to nuclear weapons." In other words, Mr. Trump sees a virtue in being unpredictable.  What he doesn't seem to understand is that over a period of time, incessant unpredictability becomes predictable.

And then there's hiscabinet nominees,  which have represented the height of unpredictability. Indeed, the one thing most seem to have in common (besidesbeing filthy rich and possessing an all but total lack of government, foreign policy or diplomatic experience) is a deep-seated desire to do away with the very departments they have been nominated to lead.

At what point does moronic unpredictability morph into utter predictability?

Perhaps that point comes when Mr. Trump nominates a man like David Friedman to be our next Ambassador to the State of Israel. For in Mr. Friedman's case, the President-elect has nominated a man who represents the bipolar opposite of what Mr. Trump claimed would be his approach to the Jewish State and conflict in the Middle East.  During the campaign, Donald Trump famously said that he was inclined to "remain neutral" on the issue of Israel and Palestine.  As late as this past August, his campaign website contained the following language:

“It’s probably the hardest negotiation there is – great negotiators have tried and they failed. It’s just so deep-seeded – the hatred, the level of distrust – but I’m going to give it an awfully good shot. I want to remain as neutral as possible because, if you’re not somewhat neutral, the other side is never going to do it. But just remember, Israel, I love you. We’re going to see if we can get something done. It has to be done for both sides. It cannot continue to be the way it is.” 

This is certainly no longer the case; the unpredictable has once again become predictable. David Friedman serves as a stellar example . . .

For the past many years, the Orthodox Mr. Friedman has served as Donald Trump's bankruptcy attorney.  He is the fellow who filed some of Mr. Trump's most newsworthy bankruptcies, including those of 2004 and 2009, in which "Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts" returned investors a mere 10¢ on the dollar while reaping Mr. Friedman's client such a massive loss that he wouldn't have to pay a dime in federal income tax for more than a decade.  That a man with such a résumé should land such a crucial ambassadorial post is far from predictable. But that very unpredictability is fast becoming predictable; it is in the President-elect's very DNA.

The 58-year old Friedman, a graduate of Columbia University and NYU Law School, grew up in Woodmere, Long Island, where his father, the late Morris Friedman, was rabbi of Temple Hillel in North Woodmere, and served a stint as president of the New York Board of Rabbis.  For many years, David Friedman has headed up the creditors’ rights and bankruptcy practice group at the New York law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP. But far more crucial to this piece, David Friedman has long been positioned on the far right of the Israeli political map.  In matter of plain fact, he is more hard-line in his views than Israeli P.M. Benyamin Netanyahu. Friedman serves as president of American Friends of Beit El Institutions, which financially supports the settlement enterprise. He has long challenged the widespread view that Israeli settlement activity is illegal and opposes a ban on construction activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – particularly those places that would be part of a future agreement involving land swaps. Unlike every recent American president, every U.S. Ambassador to Israel and an overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community, David Friedman supports annexation of the West Bank and thinks a "single-state solution" would be workable because he believes there are "far fewer Palestinians than commonly estimated."

On the positive (and unpredictable) side of the equation, David Friedman also supports United Hatzalah, an Israeli emergency medical services group that prides itself on integrating Arab and Druze volunteers.  Moreover, he helped build a $42 million village for disabled children — Bedouin and Jewish — in the Negev Desert. 

In announcing this nomination, both Friedman and the Trump transition team made crystal clear that the new administration was going to be predictably unpredictable in its relations with Israel and the Muslim world.  Said Mr. Friedman, “I am deeply honored and humbled by the confidence placed in me by President-elect Trump to represent the United States as its Ambassador to Israel. 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.” This last sentence is most notable, for the American Embassy has long been located in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. The embassy has not moved because the status of Jerusalem remains a disputed element in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It should be noted that promising to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and then going back on the promise has a long history.  A 1995 law even mandated it, but every president since it was passed has repeatedly waived that requirement (without that waiver, authored by then Senator Bob Dole, the bill never would have passed).  In announcing that he would be working out of Jerusalem rather than Tel Aviv, Friedman and the Trump administration were making it clear that the American rule book is about to be rewritten; all bets are off the table. Out goes the two-state solution; in comes the one-state solution.  Then too, with Mr. Trump's telephone chat with the Taiwanese President, out goes America's long-standing one-China policy, to be replaced with god knows what.

Now, as mentioned above, a strong majority of American Jews disagree with Friedman's positions vis-à-vis Israel.  And how has Friedman responded to the vastly more moderate views of this community?  By likening them/us to "kapos" - Jews who cooperated with the Nazis?  I don't know about you, but this offends me to the quick.  Who in the hell is David Friedman to accuse me - or anyone else - of being less Jewish, less committed, less fervent - then anyone else in the Jewish community just because we don't look at the world through the same eyes? To claim we are no better than kapos; that we represent a greater threat to America and Israel than ISIS, shows how unqualified you are to be a diplomat. It also smacks of the same kind of intolerant self-righteous bilge which suffuses the Taliban . . . minus the landmines and suicide bombers.

 Remember this well Mr. Friedman: the majority of American Jews want nothing to do with an administration which has a known anti-Semite like Stephen Bannon sitting at the president's right hand. We want even less to do with a President who has set himself on a path which caters to the whims and wishes of an ideologically obdurate commingling of ultra-orthodox Jews, Dominionist Christians and conspiratorial Islamophobes.

During the campaign, Mr. Friedman, you frequently responded to charges of anti-Semitism among Trump supporters by dismissing the allegations, insisting that hatred of Jews is far more prevalent among the Left.  Although I do understand how you come to this conclusion, it is still shund, chara, basura, crappola.

Your nomination is the unpredictable become manifestly predictable. 

Let's make a deal Mr. Friedman: if you won't consider me a Nazi collaborator, I won't think of you as being an American Taliban.


Copyright©2016 Kurt F. Stone