The Senate confirmation hearing for David Friedman, Trump’s nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Israel, became quite heated due to strong opposition from both Jewish and Palestinian groups.
While Trump’s campaign rhetoric regarding his position on the Israeli occupation of Palestine was somewhat neutral, there’s no denying that he has sharply aligned himself with right-wing Israeli hardliners since winning last November’s election and assuming the office of President. From his promises to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem to his refusal to endorse the “two-state solution,” Trump has done much to garner the respect of pro-occupation political groups and figures in Israel and the U.S. while alienating their more liberal counterparts.
No measure taken by Trump has made this more clear than his nomination of David Friedman as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer with close connections to Trump, is a highly controversial pick for the position as his views on Israeli domestic policy have been heavily criticized by both Jewish and Palestinian groups for his strong support for West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. Much of the controversy also revolves around several inflammatory statements Friedman made in years prior, such as his proclamation that members of J Street, a “liberal” pro-Israel group, were “worse than kapos” – a reference to Jews who collaborated with Nazis. Friedman also famously accused former President Barack Obama and the entire State Department of being anti-Semites.
Prior to last Thursday’s confirmation hearing, over 600 American rabbis and cantors had signed a letter expressing their opposition to Friedman’s nomination, citing concerns over Friedman’s “denigration of American Jews who believe differently from him and his policy positions that we believe run contrary to the interests of the United States and Israel.” Many progressive pro-Israel groups have also expressed their strong opposition to Friedman’s appointment including J Street, T’ruah, New Israel Fund, Ameinu, NCJW, Partners for Progressive Israel and Americans for Peace Now.
Protestors associated with these groups and other played a prominent role during Friedman’s Senate confirmation hearing last Thursday, disrupting the proceedings on more than one occasion – resulting in a handful of arrests. Three of the protestors arrested were Jewish-Americans working with IfNotNow, a Jewish organization opposed to Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
Despite the interruptions, Freidman attempted to distance himself from his controversial past statements during the hearing, claiming that he regretted his past comments. “Some of the language that I used during the highly charged presidential campaign that ended last November has come in for criticism and rightfully so,” said Friedman. “While I maintain profound differences of opinion with some of my critics, I regret the use of such language.”
Friedman’s hearing came just one day after Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where Trump controversially refused to endorse the “two-state solution,” a policy which has guided U.S. foreign policy in the region for decades. Friedman has also previously opposed the two-state solution – once calling it “an illusion.” However, he claimed to support it during last Thursday’s hearing. The Senate will likely vote on Friedman’s appointment at some point over the next few days. Whether he is confirmed or rejected, the Trump administration’s commitment to pro-occupation forces in Israel’s government and political landscape will likely remain unchanged. However, Friedman’s confirmation would certainly advance the expansion of illegal settlements and strengthen Israel’s right-wing political parties, developments which could have potentially destabilizing effects for the entire Middle East.
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