Incompetency Shouldn't Be the New Normal

During the campaign, Donald Trump made many statements that would have derailed any other presidential candidate. He may have won because instead of making just one disqualifying statement, he made so many that too many of us threw up our hands and laughed instead of taking him seriously.

The U.S. Senate cannot make the same mistake. Many of Trump's appointments, including Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (R-AL), former Texas Gov. Rick PerryBen Carson, and Michael Flynn--to name but a few--are utterly unqualified and should be rejected. The president is entitled to choose people who will implement his policies. But the Constitution gives the Senate the right to reject these appointments. It's bad enough that we have an unqualified president. We cannot allow Trump to surround himself with unqualified advisers.

If the Senate has the courage to vote down Trump's nominees, which will require some Republicans to stand up to their party, the Senate will be accused of obstructionism. So be it. Senate Republicans would not even give Merrick Garland a hearing. All of Trump's nominees will have hearings, and if any of them cannot satisfactorily address concerns about their qualifications, they should be voted down--even if that means voting down all of them. We cannot allow incompetency to become the new normal.

David Friedman's nomination for U.S. ambassador to Israel is the latest example. The New York Times wrote that "Like any president-elect, Mr. Trump is within his rights to nominate whomever he pleases. But with his choice of Mr. Friedman, he has displayed a dangerous ignorance of or indifference to the land mines across the Middle East."

Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum wrote that Friedman

is the perfect envoy to represent Trump because he immerses himself in a post-truth environment where facts are secondary to the reality that you create for yourself. Ignore the warnings of every demographic expert about the population numbers because there is a solitary former Israeli diplomat who will tell you that they are wrong. Pay no heed to what the IDF says about the ticking time bomb of frustrated Palestinians in the West Bank because there are MEMRI videos of imams calling Jews apes and pigs. Marginalize groups like the ADL as extreme leftists on Israel because nobody in your Orthodox community pays them any heed. Cast aside the recommendations of the over two hundred generals that comprise Commanders for Israel's Security because everyone knows that Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank would automatically create a terrorist state. Embrace every rightwing axiom and meme, no matter the contrary evidence, because your worldview always trumps any facts that can possibly be thrown your way.

The Boston Jewish Community Relations Council stated that "it is intolerable that any representative of the United States - particularly one who would represent our nation to the Jewish state - could and does refer to members of our Jewish community as 'worse than Kapos' or 'not Jewish.'"

The National Council of Jewish Women "is appalled" by Friedman's selection. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) says that Friedman is "wholly unfit and completely unqualified." Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) condemned Friedman's extreme views and hateful language. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), who agrees with Friedman that the U.S. should move its embassy to Jerusalem, rejects Friedman because of Friedman's abandonment of the two-state solution, as does Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY).

Like the Block David Friedman Facebook page for updates.

Do you think the U.S. should move its embassy to Jerusalem? It might be a good idea, but you owe it to yourself to read this from Eli Lake.

The U.N. passed a resolution condemning settlements. I wrote about this on Friday. My point was simply that before forming our opinions, we should read for ourselves the resolution and read for ourselves the administration's rationale. That's a much better approach than relying on the summaries and (mis)interpretations of others. 

And regardless of what we may conclude, this is the first time that the Obama administration has not blocked a resolution that Israel opposed, whereas the previous eight presidents have let many such resolutions pass (here's a quick summary). If you think that this abstention outweighs all the good that the Obama administration has done for Israel (record military aid, unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation, Iron Dome, the Iran deal, etc.) you might want to ask yourself if you are the one applying a double standard. 

And if you think that the U.S. abstention represents a break from U.S. policy, then you are confusing Obama policy (which did begin on January 20, 2009, and which has never permitted resolutions Israel opposed to pass, until last week) with the policies of the previous eight presidents, for whom this was business as usual.

It's hard to argue with the facts that Samantha Power presented in her speech, and it's impossible to characterize her speech or Secretary of State John Kerry's statement as anything but pro-Israel. Yet the resolution itself singles out only Israel by name and is not nearly as clear or specific about the steps the Palestinians must take. Nothing in this resolution delegitimizes Israel, sanctions Israel, or imposes a solution on Israel, but a resolution such as this could and should have explicitly reiterated Israel's permanent legitimacy as a Jewish state. Unfortunately, the U.S. had no hand in the negotiation of the wording.

Many respected organizations and individuals, including Israel Policy ForumRep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)Rep.-elect Brad Schneider (D-IL),  and Rep. (soon to be Sen.) Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) disagreed with the decision to abstain. Their reasoning does make sense.

To put all of this in proper perspective, read this outstanding guide to the ramifications of Friday's resolution by Barak Ravid.

If you still have questions, chances are that they were asked and answered in this interview late Friday afternoon with Ben Rhodes. He correctly points out that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said that his government was "more committed to settlements than any in Israel's history" and that one of his coalition partners, Naftali Bennett, said that "the era of the two-state solution is over." 

Rhodes also pointed out that "it has also been consistently the case that U.S. administrations have addressed the Israeli-Palestinian issue, or the broader Arab-Israeli issue, through the U.N. Security Council. In fact, President Obama was, until this resolution, the first President in decades to not have such a resolution go forward during his time in office."

Settlements are not the cause of the problem, but they are an impediment to the solution. This resolution is a blow to the settlement enterprise. It will not be a blow to Israel, at least not if the Trump administration is as supportive of Israel as the Obama administration has been. 

The pro-settlement policies of the current government of Israel left the U.S. little diplomatic space, and something is very wrong if we can't distinguish between the current government of Israel, which can make mistakes, and the nation of Israel, which we must always support. Yet since the administration disagreed with some of the language in the resolution, I don't understand why the U.S. could not have vetoed this resolution, delivered essentially the same message, and left the door open for a resolution that it could have supported.

Hanukkah for DummiesChemi Shalev explains that David Friedman's hatred of his fellow Jews might actually be in the Hanukkah spirit.

Well, that was kind of cynical, so let's not end with that. I know that this is not the reason for lighting the candles, but building on what President Obama said at the White House Hanukkah Party, as we light the candles each night, let's remember that no matter how bleak the days ahead might seem, the flickering light of these candles represents the light of a hope that has not been extinguished, and just as each night we add one more candle and brighten the light, so too may we go from strength to strength as we fight for our values and give hope to those who cannot fight for themselves.

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