The US ambassador to Israel was president of an American charity that donated money to a Jewish group designated a “terrorist organisation” by the United States, Israeli media has reported just days before he was due to open a new embassy in Jerusalem.
David Friedman was the president of American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva Center between 2011 and 2017, which raises about $2m a year for settler-linked programmes, particularly in Beit El and its Beit El Yeshiva religious school Friedman attended as a young man.
The settlement is also home to the Qomemiyut Movement, an alternative name for Kahane Chai, designated a “terrorist group” by the US State Department in 1997 for alleged links to a deadly shooting in 2005 and harassment of Palestinians and Israelis who want illegal Israeli settlements dismantled.
Citing a report by the Israeli NGO Democratic Bloc, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency said the American Friends group donated 48,000 shekels ($13,000) directly to the Qomemiyut Movement in 2013. The documents show Qomemiyut received the cash from “Shocharei Yeshivat Beit El” – the Hebrew translation of Friends of Beit El Yeshiva. An employer identification number for the organisation on the documents matched that of the American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva, the JTA reported.
Haaretz said that donation was one of several to Qomemiyut totalling about $100,000 between 2008 and that year.
On Monday, Friedman was due to open the new US embassy in Jerusalem. Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was one of Trump’s campaign promises and caused dismay among Palestinians and in capitals across the world as a blow to peace efforts.
Questioned about the American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva during his confirmation hearing, Friedman said that his presidency derived “from my commitment to Jewish education… everything we’ve given money to has been in the nature of gymnasiums, dormitories, dining rooms, classrooms and things like that.”
He told the hearing he had no connection to political activity inside the Beit El settlement: “My philanthropic activity there has not been connected to their political activity which I really had no part in.”
In response to the claims, Friedman’s office told Haaretz that: “The ambassador is not familiar with the Qomemiyut Foundation, nor is he aware of any connection between those entities and American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva Center.”
Qomemiyut’s Facebook page describes its mission as the “strengthening and instilling of the values of the righteousness of the Jewish renewal and preventing the expulsion of the Jews from Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights.”
The organisation includes far-right Israeli politician Bezalel Smotrich of the Jewish Home Party and Dov Lior, a rabbi who has said Jewish law allows the destruction of the Gaza Strip.
The current head of Qomemiyut, Mousa Cohen, told Haaretz that he was not aware of Friedman’s involvement in the donation saying that “the connection was between the two organisations”.