A repentant David Friedman, Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next ambassador to Israel, got an easy ride at the Senate Foreign Relations committee this morning. He said that his apologies to Senator Al Franken and to the head of the Anti Defamation League, for calling them “morons“, were accepted by them; while former Senator Joe Lieberman said he had slept at Friedman’s house and he’s a great guy.
All the senators on the panel agreed that Israel policy should never become politicized, even though it has been; and they seemed determined not to aggravate the divide. Sen. Cory Booker seemed on the verge of tears when quoting Friedman’s use of the word “kapos” to describe critics; Friedman said he would “atone” and “make amends.” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said that a relative of a Holocaust survivor in New Hampshire wants his apology. Give her my number, Friedman said solemnly.
Despite a chorus of voices saying he is too extremist to be ambassador, including from five former ambassadors to Israel who served Republicans and Democrats, Friedman appears to be a lock to be approved, especially given the warm reception he got from Senator Rand Paul, the one Republican who might have broken ranks in the vote, and the strong identification that Democratic Senator Ben Cardin expressed with Friedman, as Zionists.
The most exciting part of the hearing were the first few minutes, as Friedman’s opening statement was interrupted repeatedly by protesters, who were pulled out of the hearing room.
Here was the first disruption by a Palestinian man holding up a Palestinian flag and describing the fate of Palestinian refugees, including his grandfather, forced off his land.
A second Palestinian man also held up a flag and was escorted out, then a shofar sounded, and several young Jews from IfNotNow disrupted the hearing, speaking as American Jews against the occupation. “David Friedman, you promote racism… you do not represent us and you will never represent us.” IfNotNow says three members were arrested. Here is a one-minute video:
As for the exchanges with senators… Friedman said he was for the two-state solution, if only the Palestinians would finally accept the existence of Israel, which they don’t want to do; but that he was convinced there had to be some young Palestinians out there who want what everyone else in the world wants, a chance to get ahead. He said that President Obama wasn’t really an anti-semite, even if he had accused him of being one for saying that Democratic donors were undermining the Iran deal; he said that people can express anti-semitic ideas without actually meaning any harm to Jews. He promised Ohio’s Rob Portman that he would do his utmost to fight BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign that Portman said seeks Israel’s delegitimization. He said that he would sell his interests in Israeli businesses, without saying what those were. Senator Marco Rubio took Friedman’s side, vociferously, and attacked J Street, saying it smears its opponents and invited Saeb Erekat to its conference.
In an exchange with Sen. Shaheen of New Hampshire (who said she is married to a Lebanese-American), Friedman promised that he would take seriously allegations of mistreatment by Arab-Americans at Israeli ports. He said he knew Israel had reasons but he expected it to investigate such cases. Hmmm.
David Friedman’s zealotry/temperament were repeatedly questioned by the Democratic members; but he appeared phlegmatic and unruffled. He said he had been to Israel 50 times and this job would be the capstone of his life. Senators repeatedly congratulated Friedman on his love for Israel; and many of Friedman’s comments suggested that his primary concern was binding up and representing a divided American Jewish community, with very little mention of non-Jewish Americans. He said that American Jews are devoted to Israel, even if they disagree; and he said his late rabbi father Morris was his hero, and that in the 70s his father had many times locked himself to the gates of the Soviet embassy demanding freedom for Soviet Jews.
Haaretz has reported that Friedman’s claim that he only used inflammatory “kapos” rhetoric to describe opponents in the heat of the election campaign is inaccurate; he kept at it after the election was over.
Responding to the hearing, human rights attorney Noura Erakat said, “Despite his disciplined performance before the Senate confirmation panel, David Friedman has made abundantly clear his agenda regarding Israel and Palestine. In his capacity as ambassador, he will serve the interests of Israel’s right-wing government and settler movement to consolidate a vision of Greater Israel that includes sovereignty over occupied East Jerusalem as well as the largest settlement blocs sprawling across the occupied West Bank.”