This morning the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the nomination of David Friedman to be ambassador to Israel in a largely party-line vote. The nomination now goes to the full Senate. Here is a range of the opposition to the appointment.
Yesterday, the ranking Democrat on Foreign Relations, Senator Ben Cardin came out against the appointment, saying in part:
I appreciate Mr. Friedman’s efforts before the Committee to express regret for his record of divisive, inflammatory, and offensive statements. 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.
On Monday Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle calling Friedman’s views “extreme.” She added:
He has directly supported settlement activity. According to public records, Friedman is the president of American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva, an organization that raises funds for the Beit El settlement in the West Bank. As a benefactor of the settlement enterprise, it’s impossible to imagine Friedman will push to stop settlement expansion, though the White House recently called for holding off on settlements.
Last week at the J Street conference, Charles Gati, a Holocaust survivor, professor and former State Department adviser, dismissed Friedman’s apologies for his earlier outrageous comments:
I do not believe his turnaround just before the Senate would vote for his confirmation, he suddenly dismisses all his positions as well as the tone of his comments. In particular I am offended as a Holocaust survivor by his references to J Street as “worse than Kapos” and claiming the president of the United States [Obama] is an anti-semite. This man is an agitator and a bombthrower, not a diplomat
Also at that conference, Rabbi John Rosove described the “extreme discomfort” on the part of the Reform movement with David Friedman. The Association of Reform Zionists of America, which Rosove chairs, voted unanimously not to recommend Friedman to be ambassador. The Union for Reform Judaism voted by 4 to 1 not to approve the ambassador, the first time that the URJ has ever made a recommendation on such an appointment. Rosove used the Hebrew slang for a bomb:
This pzatza– he is a bomb waiting to go off and I have no expectation that he will be helpful to the Middle East at all…
I’m hopeful that someone on the Senate Foreign Relations committee say– though we expect otherwise– will say, you know what, I have to vote my conscience here, and this is not good for the American Israel relationship or the American Middle East positions.
J Street has come out against the appointment. Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of the liberal Zionist group, said the organization had reached out to Friedman through an intermediary– members of the boards of rabbis from New Jersey and New York, who had met with Friedman and concluded that he was not a bad guy. Ben-Ami told the rabbis, “we would very much like to meet with him, talk to him, get a chance for him to understand who we are.” There was no response from Friedman or the rabbis.
Asked about Friedman’s apology for the use of the word “Kapos” retraction, Ben-Ami said it was unconvincing.
That was not sufficient. He did not even under duress do anything more than say he should not have used those words….He said he had actually called the ADL to apologize [for calling them morons]…. In the third go round of the committee, he used the apologize word. But he never used that in our context…
The thing with Friedman is, a, it’s his views which are so far out of the mainstream of bipartisan foreign policy, and b, his utter lack of experience professionally for this position, one of the most sensitive diplomatic missions in the world, and c, the temperament and disposition he’s displayed through his interactions over years, and not just his interactions but deliberate writings… That’s enough of a package in our view to vote against him.
Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli ambassador, said at the same gathering that while he understands opposition to Friedman, he does not think Friedman ultimately matters. “He is not going to drive policy, he will do what he is told,” Pinkas said, adding that an ambassador can get a reservation at a good restaurant and that’s about all the power he or she has.
Pinkas said that so far Friedman has been in confusion about his prospective duties: the Senate hearings are about whether he will be the American ambassador to Israel, “not the West Bank ambassador to Washington.” Pinkas said, “The sooner he realizes that he is going to be representing Bethesda and not Beit El, the better for him.”
Thanks to Allison Deger.