President-elect Donald Trump has announced that he will nominate attorney David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel, selecting an envoy who supports Israeli settlements and other changes to U.S. policies in the region. Friedman said he looked forward to carrying out his duties from "the U.S. embassy in Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem," even though the embassy is in Tel Aviv.
Like some of his predecessors, Trump has vowed to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, a politically charged act that would anger Palestinians who want east Jerusalem as part of their sovereign territory. The move would also distance the U.S. from most of the international community, including its closest allies in Western Europe and the Arab world.
The president-elect said Friedman would "maintain the special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel.
But the announcement sparked anger from liberal Jewish groups. Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, called nominating Friedman "reckless," citing his support for settlements and his questioning of a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
Friedman has in the past referred to J Street's supporters as "Kapos," Jews who collaborated with Nazis during World War II, The New York Times reported.
"They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas — it’s hard to imagine anyone worse,” he wrote on an Israeli media company's website. Friedman stood by the remarks in a later interview.
About six million Jews and five million other people were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945.
The statement doesn't detail how Friedman could work in Jerusalem. However, Trump advisers have insisted in recent days that the president-elect will follow through on his call for moving the embassy.
"He has made that promise," Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters Thursday. "I can guarantee you, just generally, he's a man who is going to accomplish many things very quickly."
One option Trump allies have discussed would involve Friedman, if confirmed by the Senate, working out of an existing U.S. consulate in Jerusalem. According to a person who has discussed the plan with Trump advisers, the administration would essentially deem the facility the American embassy by virtue of the ambassador working there.
It's unclear how far those discussions have gotten or whether Trump himself has been briefed on the proposal. Trump's transition team did not respond to questions about the matter.
Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but backed away from the idea once in office.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move that is not internationally recognized. It claims the entire city as its capital. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem, home to key Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, as the capital of their future state.
Virtually all embassies to Israel are located in or around Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told The Associated Press this week that he has been in touch with Trump's staff about the embassy issue. Barkat said his conversations have led him to believe that Trump is serious about making the move.