With Friedman’s confirmation looming, US Jews range from despondent to exhilarated

WASHINGTON — The moment will soon arrive when the full United States Senate will vote on whether to confirm President Donald Trump’s controversial choice for ambassador to Israel. It is not yet clear when exactly that vote will happen exactly, but since the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved David Friedman’s nomination last week, it is probably a matter of days.

The announcement of Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer and longtime friend of the president’s, as Trump’s Israel envoy pick set the political world and Jewish community ablaze. A supporter of the settlement movement — both financially and vocally — and a vociferous critic of the two-state solution, the 57-year-old left many wondering whether Trump is planning to upend decades of US policy by granting him such a significant diplomatic assignment.

Indeed, after the nomination was announced, Friedman said he intended to fulfill his duties as ambassador in “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem,” a statement that, at the time, was read to indicate the administration’s resolve to follow through on a campaign pledge to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But beyond that, he horrified liberal Jews — the vast majority of American Jewry — by designating supporters of the progressive Middle East advocacy group J Street as “worse than kapos,” the Jews who assisted Nazis in the slaughter of their own people during the Holocaust.

At his confirmation hearing last month, however, Friedman said he felt remorse over his rhetoric. “These were hurtful words and I deeply regret them,” he said. “They’re not reflective of my nature, or my character.”

J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy JTA/J Street)

J Street was unmoved. Having already kicked off a vigorous campaign against Friedman’s appointment, the group proceeded to collect 40,000 signatures opposing his confirmation by the foreign relations panel. The organization’s president, Jeremy Ben Ami, told The Times of Israel at the time that he hoped Friedman’s words of contrition would not “expunge” his problematic record.

Over the course of the campaign, Friedman was outspoken about his belief that settlement activity is not an obstacle to peace and that Israel would not face a “demographic threat” to its Jewish character if it failed to separate from the Palestinians.

The settlers have thus rejoiced over Friedman. The Yesha Council, the main umbrella group for West Bank settlements, said last week it looked forward to “working together with him to build a brighter future for everyone in the region.”

With Friedman’s confirmation seeming extremely likely — there would need to be at least three Republican defections to block it — here is a look at where prominent American Jews and Jewish groups stand on the firebrand who may soon be the main diplomatic representative of the United States to the Jewish state.

The opposition

J Street: “J Street is vehemently opposed to the nomination of David Friedman to serve as United States Ambassador to Israel,” the group said shortly after the pick was announced. “Friedman is a leading American friend and funder of the settlement movement, lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials and has attacked fellow Jews and public figures with hateful accusations that are disqualifying for representing our country in any capacity… The nomination shows breathtaking disdain for the vast majority of American Jews who support the two-state solution, progress toward peace with the Palestinians and common decency in public discourse.”

Six hundred rabbis and cantors: “The Rabbis of the Talmud are adamant that we are to speak to and about other people — particularly those with whom we disagree — with love and respect. We are taught that shaming a person is tantamount to shedding their blood,” they said in an open letter to President Trump. “Yet Mr. Friedman seems to have no qualms about insulting people with whom he disagrees… We are very concerned that rather than try to represent the US as an advocate for peace, Mr. Friedman will seek to mold American policy in line with his extreme ideology.”

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin (D), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “Following extensive consideration of Mr. Friedman’s record and taking into account his statements during his nomination hearing, I have concluded that his past record would make it very difficult for him to serve as that unifying force,” he said in a statement. “For that reason, I am unable to support his nomination as America’s top diplomat in Israel.”

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin,(D) ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, right, accompanied by committee Chairman Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker (R), questions Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

“Unfortunately, I believe that the body of Mr. Friedman’s published work will compromise his effectiveness representing the United States – and all Americans – to the Government of Israel and all Israelis,” he added. “Taken together, Mr. Friedman’s statements and affiliations make it clear that he does not believe the two-state solution is necessary for a just and lasting peace. I am concerned that Mr. Friedman’s history on this issue undermines his ability to represent the United States as a credible facilitator of the peace process.”

Ameinu: “David Friedman’s views directly conflict with long standing American foreign policy and practice in the region. He is an opponent of a two-state solution, a supporter of increased settlement expansion in the West Bank and even its annexation, and an advocate of moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem without any other associated peace efforts,” the organization said. “He has also viscously attacked liberal advocates of a two-state solution as ‘worse than kapos,’ Jews who were forced to assist the Nazis. This raises serious concerns about Friedman’s temperament and his ability to serve in this sensitive diplomatic position.”

National Council of Jewish Women: “NCJW believes the choice of David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel flies in the face of the principles we hold dear: in order to ensure a secure and strong Israel we must seek a fair and just peace with all Israel’s neighbors; and to strengthen Israel from within we must create a state where minorities, women, children, and all people must be treated with dignity and afforded all the protections of a great democracy,” the group’s CEO, Nancy K. Kaufman, said in a press release. “Friedman’s extremist views would lead us down a dangerous path to greater violence and self-destruction. Simply put, David Friedman is an irresponsible choice as US Ambassador to Israel. If confirmed, he could undermine Israel’s traditional bi-partisan support in the United States and alienate much of the American Jewish community.”

David Friedman testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on his nomination to be the US ambassador to Israel, Feb. 16, 2017. (Win McNamee/Getty Images via JTA)

Americans for Peace Now: “Americans for Peace Now (APN) is alarmed by President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of David Friedman to be the United States’ next ambassador to Israel. Friedman’s choice sends an alarming message about the Trump administration’s role in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace,” the left-wing organization said in a statement. “Friedman opposes the two-state solution and thus breaks with longstanding bi-partisan U.S. policy on Israel, a policy that even Prime Minister Netanyahu endorses. David Friedman has called the two-state solution an ‘illusion,’ an ‘anachronism,’ and ‘a narrative that needs to end.’ He recently said that he does not view Israeli West Bank settlements as an obstacle to peace. Friedman opposes the very essence of APN’s values and mission. We oppose Friedman’s nomination.”

Partners for Progressive Israel: The liberal advocacy group has encouraged its supporters to send letters to their representatives in Congress saying Friedman is “hostile to the two-state solution … a friend of the settlement movement and an avid supporter of further settlement expansion. He’s shown disdain for Israel’s Arab population, questioning their value to Israeli society. He has even made the case for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank. Furthermore, the contempt Mr. Friedman has shown toward liberal American Jews — labeling them worse than Nazi collaborators — makes him a horrible choice to be our representative in Israel.”

Then Maryland State Sen. Jamie Raskin speaks during a debate on possible amendments to a gay marriage bill in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin (D): “Now is a moment that calls for maximum prudence and diplomacy in office, cultural bridge-building and creative political action to break the brutal logic of hatred and war,” he said. “The confirmation of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel would be bad news not only for Israel and the Palestinians, but for solidarity and civility in the American Jewish community.”

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D): “The nomination of David Friedman as the new US ambassador to Israel underscores, yet again, the extremist agenda of Donald Trump and his administration. This is an appointment with dangerous consequences for both the United States and Israel, not only with respect to the prospect of an eventual negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but also with respect to the relationship between our two countries, and more generally, to regional stability,” he said in a statement. “Mr. Friedman’s extreme views and use of such hateful language is an insult to the majority of American Jews.”

Kentucky Rep. John Yarmouth (D): “Donald Trump’s appointment of David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel is totally out of step with longstanding, bipartisan US foreign policy,” he posted on his Facebook account. “At a challenging and precarious time in the Middle East, catering to right-wing inflammatory views that will unnecessarily strain our relationships in the region is extremely dangerous. We should be working toward a two-state solution, with both Jews and Palestinians living alongside each other in peace and security.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism: “We have never before opposed the nomination of a U.S. Ambassador. We do so now because of our firm belief that Mr. Friedman is the wrong person for this essential job at this critical time,” he said in a statement.

‘We have never before opposed the nomination of a US Ambassador. We do so now because of our firm belief that Mr. Friedman is the wrong person for this essential job at this critical time’

Jacobs went on to say that Friedman lacks “the basic qualifications for the position,” that his “views on key issues suggest he will not be able to play a constructive role,” and that he “lacks the necessary temperament for such a sensitive position.”

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights: “The selection of David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel represents a threat to the security of Israelis, Palestinians, and Jews everywhere. The policies he supports — from the expansion of settlements to the annexation of the West Bank to the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem — not only violate decades of U.S. policy, but also will only fuel resentment and could even provoke violence,” the group said. “The selection of Mr. Friedman is a step in the wrong direction—a step likely to lead to an escalation in the conflict, and a threat to the very possibility of peace, liberty, security, and justice for all Israelis and Palestinians.”

Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D): “David Friedman is wholly unfit and completely unqualified to serve as our country’s ambassador to Israel,” she said in a statement. “He has a long record of extremist statements in opposition to a two-state solution and in support of settlement expansion in the West Bank. These positions are in direct opposition to long-standing official US policy held by both Republican and Democratic Administrations.”

“At a time when we need an ambassador to Israel who has demonstrated the highest level of diplomatic skills, President-elect Trump has named a bankruptcy lawyer with no foreign policy credentials; an individual who has antagonized and insulted both Jews and Arabs with his far-right statements and divisive rhetoric,” she added. “His appointment would make a very dangerous situation even worse.”

The supporters

Richard Sandler, chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America: “I believe he’s a very intelligent individual, and I think he’ll be a good representative if he is confirmed,” Sandler reportedly said during a meeting with the Jewish Agency’s board of governors in Tel Aviv. “My expectations of him are very positive … Obviously he made certain comments before he knew he was going to be vetted for the position of ambassador, but I thought he explained himself very well during the Senate hearings … I think he is probably more knowledgeable than some people think on a number of topics, and I think he’s serious about wanting to find a solution.”

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America: “ZOA urges the US Senate to confirm President Donald Trump’s outstanding nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman,” he said in a statement. “Mr. Friedman has sterling qualifications, is one of America’s most eminent attorneys, speaks fluent Hebrew, is extraordinarily knowledgeable about the Middle East, and is the ideal nominee to restore and strengthen the vital US-Israel alliance and the cause of real peace. In addition, Mr. Friedman’s views reflect widely-held views of the American public at large, the Jewish-American public, Congress and our major American political parties. In sum, Mr. Friedman will be a great credit to America and an upstanding representative of the American people.”

Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) president Morton A. Klein (Joseph Savetsky/courtesy of ZOA)

Orthodox Union: “A campaign has been launched to portray Mr. Friedman’s skeptical views toward the ‘two state solution’ — as the means of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — as extreme and even beyond the pale of mainstream thought,” said the leaders of the Orthodox movement’s largest umbrella group in a press release.

“This campaign has been launched by several liberal activist organizations, editorial columnists and even a few Members of Congress. We would not deny that these organizations represent the views of many American Jews and others who indeed believe in the ‘peace process’ and a two state solution” as the preferred means of resolving the conflict. But there is also no denying that many American Jews — certainly in the Orthodox Union’s constituency — and other pro-Israel Americans share Mr. Friedman’s deep skepticism towatd this decades-old approach which has been tried and tested and failed repeatedly to deliver security and peace to the people of Israel, the Palestinians and the region.”

‘I think that given his background, his family lineage, his love for this country, and his general intellect – he has all the makings.’

Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations: “He is very well thought of as a creditor-debtor lawyer. He has the confidence of the president. Certainly he is knowledgeable, and he is articulate,” the group’s chairman Stephen Greenberg said during a recent press conference in Jerusalem.

“I think he has made some statements that he has come back and modified, and I think that given his background, his family lineage, his love for this country, and his general intellect – he has all the makings.”

New York Rep. Lee Zeldin (R): “I support the nomination of David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Israel is our greatest ally, and we must always do everything that we can to strengthen that bond. I look forward to working with Ambassador Friedman,” he said to The Times of Israel in a statement.

Sitting it out

Several Jewish organizations and Israel advocacy groups have not taken a position on Friedman’s nomination — many because they are non-partisan and don’t want to inject themselves into a partisan political dispute — including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.

One public official who has remained conspicuously absent from the debate is New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, who hasn’t released a statement or made public comments on the nomination.

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