David Friedman, who has been named America’s next ambassador to Israel, heads a fundraising organization that has raised tens of millions of dollars for one of the most radical settlements in the West Bank.
According its tax forms, American Friends of Beit El Institutions, which was established in 1988, raises about $2 million in tax-deductible donations each year from supporters of the settlement movement in the United States. Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer, serves as president of the fundraising organization on a volunteer basis. Among the institutions that benefit from the organization’s fundraising efforts is a yeshiva headed by a militant rabbi who has urged Israeli soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate settlements and who has argued that homosexual tendencies arise from eating certain foods.
The organization’s donor base includes the family foundation of the parents of Jared Kushner, President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law.
Friedman, who was one of Trump’s top policy advisers on Israel during the election campaign, has been his lawyer for the past 15 years and was officially named as his ambassador on Thursday night.
In addition to funding institutions and projects in the Beit El settlement, Friedman’s organization has launched a new initiative on American college campuses to help Jewish students advocate against a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the American Friends of Beit El Institutions annual dinner in New York earlier this month, the keynote speaker was John Bolton, a Republican hardliner and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “Now more than ever, Beit El is a critical component in our collective battle for the safety, security, and unity of the State of Israel,” Friedman was quoted as saying at the event. Past keynote speakers have included other members of the far-right wing of the Republican Party, among them former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
On its website, the gala event bills itself as “the largest and most prestigious New York Dinner of any Israeli organization.” With a population of 6,500, Beit El was established near the Palestinian city of Ramallah in 1977 and is one of the oldest West Bank settlements. The institutions in the settlement supported by the American fundraising organization include a major yeshiva, various high school and post-high-school educational programs and the online news site Arutz Sheva, which is widely read among the settler population. Friedman has penned numerous columns for Arutz Sheva.
The yeshiva, which combines Jewish learning and army service, was founded and is still run by Rabbi Zalman Melamed, a founder of the far-right political party Tkuma (today part of Habayit Hayehudi, a member of the governing coalition.)
In 1995, following the Oslo agreement, Melamed was among a group of rabbis that declared the evacuation by soldiers of Israel Defense Forces bases in the occupied territories a violation of Jewish law. In 2005, he urged Israeli soldiers to resist orders to evacuate the Gush Katif settlements in the Gaza Strip.
The latest initiative to be supported by American Friends of Beit El Institutions is a program aimed at training Jewish-American college students to push back against calls for a two-state solution on their campuses.
“Recognizing the distressing state of Jewish identity amongst Diaspora young adults, the acceptance of a ‘two-state solution’ within the mainstream American Jewish community and the anti-Israel atmosphere taking hold on many North American university campuses, Bet El Institutions has initiated online educational content and campus-based programs to inspire Jewish students to become characters in Zionist history and to teach them to communicate Israel’s story in a language that appeals to students traditionally active in social justice causes,” according to the organization’s website.
“Our exciting new initiative inspires and trains students with the tools to successfully delegitimize the notion of a ‘two-state solution’ and to engage the most political active – and often the most hostile - students on their campuses.”