Trump's Israel ambassador pick stirs great discord among Jews, and there's a story there

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, or so the city's image spinners tell us. Personally, I have no experience of this, since Las Vegas is a place I avoid.

Israel is a very different story, however, and here I do have a bit of experience.

That experience tells me that just about everything that happens in Israel becomes an international balagan, with a potential for violence -- not to mention a United Nations resolution or two slamming the Jewish state for being solely at fault for whatever transpired.

Take the ongoing flap over the public broadcasting of the Muslim call to prayer.

NIMBY disputes over traffic, noise, and property uses are a staple of the local religion beat. No one in America seems to want a megachurch, a newly enlarged religious school, an exotic Hindu temple, or -- the current ultimate concern -- a mosque, coming to their neighborhood. But unless the dispute rises to a higher court, NIMBY squabbles rarely make news beyond the local level.

Not so in Israel, where a case involving the Muslim call to prayer, known in Arabic as the adhan,  is of a different magnitude from the get-go. That's even more so the case when it involves Jerusalem, the epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Seemingly making my point, The Washington Post played its story on the front page of its print editon. The implication was that Israeli Jews just want to stifle a religious freedom Muslims take for granted.

Which leads me to the incoming Trump administration's promise to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the president-elect's designated ambassador to Israel, his personal bankruptcy attorney David Friedman.

There's much on the line here. Being the chief U.S. representative in Israel is as delicate a foreign diplomatic posting as there is. Lives -- Israeli Jewish and Muslim and Christian Palestinian -- hang in the balance.

I happen to like hearing the adhan; as a regular visitor to the Holy Land it's a sort of geographical authenticator for me. Who knows how I'd feel if I actually lived close to a mosque and heard an electronically amplified pray call five times each day, day after day after day? But I don't, so it's not really my issue.

Not that I don't have strong opinions when it comes to the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself.

My bottom line belief is that the Palestinian leadership -- meaning the Palestinian Authority and certainly Hamas -- simply does not want the conflict to end in a way that respects Israeli sovereignty within defensible borders. They think time and global opinion are on their side and they'd much prefer to see Israel disappear. And so the conflict drags on, with Palestinian civilians getting the worst of it while their leaders keep threatening new violence if they don't get their way.

Still, Friedman's choice seems to me more akin to letting a bull loose in a china shop than it is a smart, well thought-out diplomatic decision.

He has no absolutely no experience in diplomacy and appears to care little about the Palestinian side of the equation. (Yes, the Palestinians must be pushed harder, perhaps even substantially harder, to compromise and end the conflict. But they can't just be ignored if the conflict is to be sensibly managed, if not ended).

So I see Friedman as a problem (his loyalty to Trump prompted the president-elect to make a financial donation to the settlement cause on his behalf). It takes more than thumbing your nose at the concerns of others, no matter how obstinate you may consider them, to effect positive change.

But that's just me. Perhaps more important for GetReligion readers is, so what's my local story angle?

For a start, take a look, or another look if you've done so previously, at the further strain that Trump's and Friedman's hardline policies will place on the increasingly difficult relationship between right-wing Israeli political and Orthodox Jewish religious authorities, and their more politically and religiously liberal American Jewish counterparts. (The same divide generally exists between Israel and other Jewish Diaspora communities.)

American Jews vote overwhelming Democrat, as they did last month, and many in the community's dominant liberal wing are already geared up to resist Trump on a number of domestic political fronts. What happens in Israel under Trump/Friedman is, given all indications so far, sure to further inflame the situation.

The growing divide is particularly true for younger American Jews, tomorrow's communal leaders. So make sure you speak to Jews of varying ages and community standing within your local area -- plus some national voices, of course.

If there's a Hillel on a university campus in your area, it's a good place to go to grab some younger voices. Ask those you encounter whether their opinions differ from those of their parents.

In addition to the growing American-Israel chasm, a parallel angle is the equally contentious relationship between right-leaning American Jews and those -- again, the majority -- who lean left on communal political and religious issues.

Still another angle here is how the American Christian community -- which has its own divisive, internal debate over Israel -- will react. Will the liberal, pro-Palestinian churches feel the need to step up their activities?  Will their support for the Palestinians lose some steam as they, too, feel obliged to pour more energy into defending progressive domestic policies they fear Trump will gut?

As for what's being reported about Friedman so far, it's just as you'd expect.

Israeli and American Jewish right-wing leaders and news media were delighted by Friedman's designation -- not to mention the possibility that the U.S. embassy might actually be moved to Jerusalem. Centrist and leftwing leaders and news media were, of course, of no such mind.

Click here to read a JTA, the American Jewish news service, story that nicely pulls the situation together. 

What both sides did agree on, however, is the importance of the role played by America's ambassador to Israel.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but here's a few words about the job's importance published in the liberal American Jewish newspaper, the Forward.

The importance of Friedman’s appointment cannot be overstated, according to former ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer.
“Every thing an ambassador says and does has an impact on policy,” said Kurtzer. He added that usually an ambassador implements policies set by the administration, but Friedman seems intent on forging his own stands. To prove the point, Kurtzer referred to Friedman’s comment in the official statement on his appointment in which he expressed his intention to work “from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

Keep an eye on this one.

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