Former U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman is set to release his new memoir next week, with content that will prove as shocking today as the events themselves did at the time.
“Sledgehammer: How Breaking with the Past Brought Peace to the Middle East,” is a gripping account of Friedman’s term as former U.S. President Trump’s appointee, one who faced and perhaps even courted controversy throughout his tenure. Friedman was perceived by many on the Left as a “hardline pro-settler right-winger,” The Guardian writes, and even made a notorious comment calling the progressive Jewish organization J Street “kapos” – because, he later explained, he “felt that J Street had betrayed the Jewish People.”
He was later forced to partially retract when justifying his suitability for the ambassadorial role, explaining that: “In the heat of a political campaign I allowed my rhetoric to get the best of me. I regret these comments and assure you that if confirmed, my remarks will be measured and diplomatic.”
According to Friedman, Trump, a president who would go down in history as strongly pro-Israel, did not necessarily start out that way. His account of Trump’s first meeting with then-Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is startling, with Trump accusing then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being unwilling to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians at a time when Mahmoud Abbas was allegedly “desperate” to do so.
That comment “knocked everyone off their chairs,” Friedman writes.
“Although the meeting was private and off the record, we all envisioned a headline tomorrow that Trump had praised Abbas and criticized Netanyahu – the worst possible dynamic for the president’s popularity or for the prospects of the peace process,” he continues, adding, “Fortunately, and incredibly, the event wasn’t leaked.”
Friedman then describes how during Trump’s next meeting with Netanyahu, he showed everyone a video compilation – “a two-minute collection of Abbas’s speeches that I thought was worth watching … two minutes of Abbas honoring terrorists, extolling violence, and vowing never to accept anything less than Israel’s total defeat.
“After the tape ended,” Friedman writes, “the President said, ‘Wow, is that the same guy I met in Washington last month? He seemed like such a sweet, peaceful guy.’”
If Trump was impressed, his advisers were less so.
“They thought it was a cheap propaganda trick,” he writes of Tillerson and McMaster. But Friedman was undeterred, retorting: “I work for the president, and nobody else … I am going to make sure that he is well informed so that he gets Israel policy right.”