US President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel is set to apologize for derogatory comments he made about liberal Jews year during the presidential campaign. Friedman is expected to issue the apology during his confirmation hearing on Thursday before a Senate committee.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Friedman’s representatives told Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin, of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that he will express his regret for calling supporters of the liberal Jewish group J Street “worse than kapos,” in reference to Jews who aided Nazis during the Holocaust. Friedman made that argument in an op-ed last year for the far-right Israeli news network Israel National News.
Friedman, a 57-year-old Long Island native, has also drawn the ire of many on the American Jewish left for his opposition to a two-state solution and vocal and financial support for West Bank settlements, as well as his labeling of former president Barack Obama as “blatantly anti-Semitic.”
In addition to being a bankruptcy lawyer in New York, Friedman serves as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organization that supports a large West Bank settlement just outside Ramallah.
He’s also pushed for the US to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a key Trump campaign promise from which the president has appeared to distance himself since taking office last month.
Ahead of his confirmation hearing, a number of liberal organizations, including Americans for Peace Now and the New Israel Fund, urged American Jews to contact their senators to protest the nomination.
The National Jewish Democratic Council said it was opposed to his nomination, calling him “uniquely unqualified.”
And on Monday, more than 600 rabbis and cantors signed an open letter against Friedman’s appointment.
The letter calls on either the president to withdraw the nomination or the Senate to reject Friedman’s bid if Trump is unwilling to take such an action.
“The Rabbis of the Talmud are adamant that we are to speak to and about other people — particularly those with whom we disagree — with love and respect. We are taught that shaming a person is tantamount to shedding their blood,” they said. “Yet Mr. Friedman seems to have no qualms about insulting people with whom he disagrees.”
The letter was orchestrated by a number of liberal American Jewish groups who have responded with horror to Friedman’s nomination since it was announced and have vowed to fight his bid, including J Street, T’ruah and Ameinu. Signatures were collected over a period of 2-3 weeks.
Friedman’s “kapos” remark, the rabbis and cantors said, was the very antithesis of the diplomatic behavior Americans expect from their ambassadors.
“An ambassador is charged with representing our entire nation. It is historically perverse and wildly insulting to characterize Jewish advocates for peace, including many of the signers of this letter, as no better than Nazi collaborators plotting to destroy the Jewish people,” they added.
“Mr. Friedman vocally supports the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which American presidents since Johnson have seen as an obstacle to peace,” it said. “Moreover, Mr. Friedman opposes the two-state solution, which has been a policy cornerstone for Republican and Democratic administrations for the past quarter century. We are very concerned that rather than try to represent the US as an advocate for peace, Mr. Friedman will seek to mold American policy in line with his extreme ideology.”
To be approved for the post, Friedman will need to be confirmed by the full Senate, where he will likely face high scrutiny over positions he’s taken that go against decades of bipartisan policy, particularly on the settlements issue.