Friedman ‘Deeply Regrets’ Past ‘Inflammatory Rhetoric’
WASHINGTON – In a tense confirmation hearing, President Donald Trump’s nominee for US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman expressed regret for his past partisan comments, including saying Senator Chuck Schumer “is validating the worst appeasement of terrorism since Munich.”
Ranking Democratic Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Ben Cardin (D-MD) grilled Friedman emphasizing that much of his tough rhetoric including calling J-Street activists “worse than Kapos” was written, and not said off-the-cuff, while noting his attacks also occurred before the 2016 election campaign began. The Maryland legislator added that he questioned whether Friedman could represent all Americans in Israel.
“There is no excuse” for the “hurtful words” and “I deeply regret them,” Friedman explained while also referencing his attacks on the ADL and J-Street. “The inflammatory rhetoric during the presidential campaign is entirely over. There is no excuse for my offensive comments… They don’t reflect my character.”
While Friedman called the two-state solution a “scam” and “damaging anarchism” last year, during Thursday’s testimony, the nominee noted that he would be “delighted” if Israelis and Palestinians were able to reach a two-state agreement while expressing skepticism towards Hamas’ willingness to renounce terrorism. “I expressed skepticism about the two-state solution due to the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” he explained. “The two-state solution, if it can be achieved, will bring great benefits for Israelis and Palestinians.”
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators– including from the “If Not Now” organization– repeatedly interrupted the proceedings with one blowing a Shofar to protest Friedman’s support for Israeli West Bank settlements.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and former Senator Joe Lieberman both praised the nominee in their introductions with the latter calling Friedman “my friend” and noting that he slept on Friedman’s sofa bed along with complimenting the New York native’s legal work.
Friedman noted that his earlier campaign rhetoric “would be left in New York” if the US Senate confirms him to his post in Israel.
In a letter sent to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, five former Ambassadors blasted Friedman’s “extreme, radical positions” and partisan alignment. “The American ambassador must be dedicated to advancing our country’s longstanding bipartisan goals in the region: strengthening the security of the United States and our ally Israel, and advancing the prospects for peace between Israel and its neighbors, in particular the Palestinians,” the former ambassadors wrote, urging senators to oppose his nomination.
Offering the nominee his strongest endorsement, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) assailed fellow lawmakers for their harsh treatment of Friedman. Rubio stressed that he did not believe the US should be a neutral arbitrator between the two parties and rejected the suggestion that Friedman should distance himself from previous statements.
After the hearing, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Jewish Insider, “It didn’t seem to me that he (Friedman) had any trouble answering everyone’s questions. They were full and complete.” While the Tennessee legislature declined to endorse the nominee, he added, “I had a very good meeting with privately. Obviously, he has a passion for the country that he has been nominated to as Ambassador and a lot to be said for that.”
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) noted that she still has not decided on Friedman’s candidacy. “I am still concerned because I think in a sensitive position like that there are some things you just can’t take back,” she told Jewish Insider.
The more independent-minded GOP Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) explained in an interview, “It was a good hearing but difficult. I think you want somebody who is open minded and all you can do is take someone at their word.” When asked if Friedman filled this criteria during the hearing, Paul declined to respond. On Wednesday, Paul told Jewish Insider that he was “favorably disposed” to Friedman.
Despite the intense scrutiny, Friedman tried reassuring the Senators that serving as Ambassador would override any previous controversial viewpoints. “My personal views are completely subordinate to that of the president and the secretary of state.”
Abe Foxman, former National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, told Jewish Insider that Friedman “did very well today both on the personal issues and on policy.” In December, Foxman called Friedman’s past comments about J Street, ADL “unacceptable.”
According to Foxman, “The Jewish community should accept and move on, and Israel should welcome Friedman and work with him.”
This post was updated to include comments by Senators Marco Rubio, Bob Corker, Rand Paul and Jeanne Shaheen; and Abe Foxman