A big battle is shaping up in Washington this week over the confirmation of David Friedman as Donald Trump’s choice to be ambassador to Israel. The bankruptcy lawyer is a dedicated supporter of the Israeli settlement project, as well as an opponent of a Palestinian state. Liberal Zionists who want to save the two-state solution are organizing against him, even as rightwing Zionists are welcoming him.
Friedman will get a hearing from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, and the committee vote is potentially close. J Street today released a letter from more than 600 rabbis and cantors opposing Friedman as an extremist:
Mr. Friedman’s inflammatory comments about Jews, Palestinians and Muslims and the peace process itself are precisely the type of comments that can ignite further conflict and drive deeper wedges between parties.
As the rabbis indicate, the wedge that Friedman is driving shows the extent to which the Israel issue is becoming politicized at last in the US mainstream. (Not that anyone wants to give all that money back, mind you!) But Bernie Sanders’s open criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu in the Democratic primary last year and Donald Trump’s open arms for the rightwing Israeli leadership have created a public divide, and those “deeper wedges” are panicking fierce supporters of Israel, such as Aaron David Miller, who worry about the end of the era of reflexive bipartisan support for Israel.
Indeed, many Jewish groups are keeping a low profile on the battle, lest they contribute to the division. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, could play the nomination one way or the other, Haaretz reports, depending on how the vote sorts out. If Friedman turns out to be a loser, AIPAC could oppose Friedman and reassert the need for a two-state solution, which is the lobby’s position. Or AIPAC might even give Democrats on the committee permission to vote against Friedman because Friedman called President Obama an “anti-Semite.” But if Friedman is going to win the job, AIPAC will surely keep its mouth shut so that no one in high position is unhappy with the group.
The Republican Jewish Coalition is leading the battle for Friedman:
The Republican Jewish Coalition firmly stands behind David Friedman and looks forward to working with him on pro-Israel policies that include: repairing our relationship with our greatest ally, Israel, moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem [etc]…
J Street is doing everything they can to derail Friedman’s nomination and we need your help to fight back. Please call Senator Chuck Schumer at 1-844-567-9789 right now and demand that they confirm David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel.
Notice that the RJC is lobbying a Democratic senator, Chuck Schumer! That’s the world of the Israel lobby. There’s only one party in this town.
Schumer is not on Foreign Relations, but he can whip the committee’s Democrats, some of whom may want to support Friedman. Remember that Schumer also played hard-to-get during the Iran deal runup. He told a Jewish group that he had to support the US national interest and not the Jewish interest on that question; and in the end he voted against the deal.
J Street is also lobbying Chuck Schumer. Dylan Williams, vp of government affairs, says it’s all about the two-state solution:
David Friedman… is a man who called you — supporters of J Street — “worse than kapos.” He called President Obama an anti-Semite. And, in contrast with everyone who has held this position since 1967, he’s a major supporter of the Israeli settlement movement. In fact, he’s raised millions of dollars for one of the most extreme settlements in the West Bank.
We are confident at this point that a number of senators will vociferously oppose the nomination. But it will take 51 to block him.
Right now, we need you to call Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand and tell them to vote NO on David Friedman’s nomination.
… [E]very Senator needs to know that a vote to confirm Friedman is a vote against America’s commitment to Middle East peace.
Today is the day. Let’s flood the Senate with calls opposing Trump’s nominee for US Ambassador to Israel.
J Street put out the news that Holocaust scholars have written a letter saying that Friedman is unfit to be an ambassador because his smear of J Street as kapos — a reference to Jews who were compelled to serve the Nazis in the concentration camps– shows “a callous disregard for history and for the suffering of the victims of Nazism.”
As scholars specializing in study of the Holocaust, we strongly object to the way President Donald Trump’s nominee to be US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has distorted and misused events during that tragic period in order to advance his own political goals…
The New Israel Fund is also waging the war against Friedman as a battle for the two-state solution. Daniel Sokatch, the group’s CEO, is confident that American Jews will be on his side against Friedman:
This is a nomination we have to fight. And I want you with us. Friedman opposes the two-state solution, has supported settlements as President of American Friends of Beit El, and has shown disdain for Israel’s Arab minority…
After you make your calls, pass this email along to your friends and family. We need as many people as possible to weigh and send the message that Mr. Friedman’s views are far from mainstream.
Friedman’s views don’t represent the views of the majority of American Jews. We do. And we need to stand strong for our values.
Jewish Voice for Peace, the leading non-Zionist group, is also against Friedman. And Moveon.org is joining the battle too:
Haaretz has an honest report on the politics of the decision, focused on Israel lobby gifts to Senators. “Ties to and donations from pro-Israel groups may affect senators’ decisions,” is the headline. If one Republican votes against–Rand Paul, who opposed rightwinger Elliott Abrams for the State Department, successfully– and all ten Democrats do too, then Friedman will be knocked out, Amir Tibon reports:
So far, Paul has not released any statement regarding Friedman… The more interesting votes to watch on the Democratic side will be those of senators considered to be close to AIPAC. It’s not clear what the lobby group will be doing behind the scenes, if anything, with regards to the nomination, if it becomes clear that it has been secured by the Republican members of the committee… The Democrats on the senate panel who are seen as close to AIPAC are ranking member Ben Cardin (Md.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Chris Coons (Del.) – all of whom have yet to comment publicly on Friedman.
Tibon follows the money, a most shocking thing to do in American journalism, that is when it involves the Israel lobby:
of the 11 Republican senators on the foreign relations panel, Paul is the only one who has not received substantial donations over the last six years from political organizations or private donors considered to be pro-Israel.
As far as contributions to the Democrats on the committee are concerned, Senator Tim Kaine (Va.), the former Democratic vice presidential nominee, received more than $100,000 for his 2012 Senate campaign from a PAC affiliated with J Street. Kaine will also be a keynote speaker at J Street’s annual conference later this year. Three other Democrats – Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (Or.) – are, according to the J Street PAC website, “off-cycle endorsees” (i.e., senators whose views on Israel are supported by that organization). It will thus be surprising if any of them votes in favor of Friedman’s nomination, considering his opposition to a two-state solution and his past remarks.
Tibon handicaps AIPAC too:
The more interesting votes to watch on the Democratic side will be those of [committee] senators considered to be close to AIPAC… ranking member Ben Cardin (Md.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Chris Coons (Del.) – all of whom have yet to comment publicly on Friedman.
To be continued.