Nominated Envoy to Israel Disavows Past Hostility

WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel piled on apology after apology at his confirmation hearing Thursday for firebrand remarks that Democrats say make him unfit for the job.

One remark that tripped up attorney David Friedman this afternoon was his statement that Jews who advocate for peace with Palestine are “far worse” than the concentration-camp prisoners who helped their Nazi captors supervise forced labor.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., called Friedman “profoundly unfit” to serve based on his history of “offensive, inflammatory and insulting rhetoric.”

“If we confirm him we are running a dangerous risk that Mr. Friedman will inflame a volatile situation and inflame other foreign governments in the region,” Udall said.

“We need a steady hand in the Middle East, not a bomb thrower in a position of high power and responsibility,” Udall added.

More than once during the hearing, Friedman apologized, expressed regret and said he could not rationalize some of his prior public statements.

“I have and will continue to reject inflammatory comments,” Friedman said in response to Udall’s comments.

Friedman said he has reached out in recent months to make amends with those he has offended and hurt.

After several hours of sometimes uncomfortable questioning, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., called Friedman’s disavowals “fairly extraordinary,” a dramatic departure from what normal politicians sometimes have to do.

“I’m just curious about this job and its importance to you to be willing to recant every single strongly held belief that you have,” added Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Friedman called strengthening the bond between the U.S and Israel of utmost importance to him. “This is something that I really want to do because I think I can do it well,” he said.

It was just this past June that Friedman called those aligned with the liberal Jewish, pro-peace advocacy group J Street as “far worse than kapos,” the word Jews use for concentration-camp prisoners who supervised forced labor for the Nazis.

“I have profound differences of opinion with J Street,” Friedman said, noting that he does not think that will change.

“My regret is that I did not express those views respectfully,” he added.

Democratic senators also raked Friedman over the coals Thursday for calling former President Barack Obama an anti-Semite and calling Sen. Tim Kane an Israel basher. Kane had been Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the November presidential election.

In his prepared testimony, Friedman tried to reassure the senators that they can expect to see different behavior from him once confirmed.

“From my perspective, the inflammatory rhetoric that accompanied the presidential campaign is entirely over, he said. “If I am confirmed, you should expect that my comments will be respectful and measured,” he added.

Udall voiced skepticism of this. “Anyone who disagrees with his extreme views or approach to Israel is an anti-Semite,” Udall said.

Udall also found it troubling that Friedman accused Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of “validating the worst appeasement of terrorism since Munich” when Schumer was considering whether to support the Iran nuclear deal.

This remark referenced a terror attack in 1972 by the Palestinian group Black September, which kidnapped and murdered 11 Israeli Olympic athletes and a German police officer during the Olympics in Munich, Germany.

Friedman has also called for restrictions on Muslims entering the United States and has advocated for subjecting them to searches of their internet and telephone communications.

“There’s no need to worry about the First Amendment – free speech and privacy do not apply to immigrants applying for entry to the United States,” Friedman wrote in a Dec. 15 Israel National News column on banning assault rifles in exchange for restrictions on Muslim immigration.

Friedman has also downplayed the threat Israeli settlements pose to reaching a peace deal.

Though a two-state solution has been a lynchpin of U.S. policy for decades, President Trump signaled Wednesday in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that reconsideration of this dynamic is not a dealbreaker.

“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said Wednesday.

Sen. Kane, D-Va., tried Thursday to tease out Friedman’s take on President Trump’s position, insofar as it would require agreement from both Israelis and Palestinians.

Friedman said he would not support a two-state solution unless Palestinians agreed to demilitarize and recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He also noted, however, that he would not support a one-state solution if that meant pushing Palestinians off their land or depriving them of equal rights.

Friedman called the two-state proposal the “most ideal” solution to the Middle East conflict. “It still remains the best possibility of peace in the region,” he said.

Friedman also said he would not support the Israeli annexation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, which Israeli Jews refer to as Judea and Sumaria.

Several times during the hearing, the lawyer said peace-building could find more help from improved economic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza than political processes. Friedman said he would like to work with Israel to improve the commercial and trade environment in the West Bank for Palestinians.

As Trump’s appointee, Friedman has faced heavy criticism for his financing of Israeli settlement Beit El. Friedman also serves as the president of American Friends of Bet El, a nonprofit that funnels American donations into the West Bank settlement.

Friedman was named as a defendant in a recent lawsuit filed by 45 Palestinians, Israelis and U.S. citizens for financing war crimes in the Palestinian territories. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, high-level Israeli defense officials and American Friends of Beit El were also named in the lawsuit.

During his confirmation hearing, Friedman said he would sell his business interests in Israel.

The passions the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can invoke were on full display during the hearing. After a hearty warning from Corker to those in attendance that any interruptions would result in arrest, a man stood up and displayed a Palestinian flag shortly after Friedman began reading his prepared statement at the beginning of the hearing.

“Mr. Friedman also said that Palestinian refugees don’t have a claim to the land, don’t have a connection to Palestine when in fact they do Mr. Friedman,” the man shouted. “I’m right here, Mr. Friedman.”

The heckler said Israel exiled his grandfather.

“Palestinians will always be in Palestine,” he shouted, as Capitol Police officers dragged him out of the hearing room.

Protesters interrupted Friedman’s comments three more times. Two of them – a young man and a young woman – were Jewish-Americans.

“You do not represent us, and you will never represent us,” the man said.