For some left-wing groups, Trump-Bibi meet-up is not top protest priority

While Jewish Voice for Peace plans protests, other organizations direct energy toward blocking Friedman appointment as Israel envoy

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara depart to the United States to meet with President Donald Trump, on February 13, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara depart to the United States to meet with President Donald Trump, on February 13, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

WASHINGTON – Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the White House on Wednesday might seem like a prime opportunity for left-wing groups to protest two leaders whose policies they dislike, the highly touted visit is taking second seat to efforts to derail this week’s confirmation hearings for David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s pick to serve as ambassador to Israel.

Although a wide swath of Jewish organizations have mobilized against Trump’s executive order concerning immigration in the weeks since the president’s inauguration, only a handful of groups planned to protest in front of the White House on Wednesday.

Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that is among the most prominent advocating for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, was expected to join Code Pink, American Muslims for Palestine, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights and the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace in what its sponsors described as a “multi-faith march and rally to oppose the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu…and plans to potentially move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

The organizations planned the protest for the early evening, hours after the meeting is set to take place. By 5 pm, when the protest is set to start, Netanyahu will be at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the Capitol.

The Senate will not, however, escape the protesters’ attention. Friedman’s Senate confirmation, scheduled to begin on Thursday, was also included among the protesters’ complaints.

Protest organizers emphasized that in addition to “showing unity among diverse peoples in direct opposition to the bigotry, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism coming out of the Trump administration,” demonstrators “will also be protesting the nomination of David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel because of his support of Israeli settlers, and Donald Trump’s plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to [Jerusalem], in direct violation of US policy.”

For the larger, more influential groups, Friedman’s upcoming confirmation hearing was the central issue this week.

J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy JTA/J Street)
J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy JTA/J Street)

In a departure from some previous visits by the prime minister, this time leftist lobby group J Street kept its activists’ focus trained on Friedman rather than the top-level meet-up.

In 2015, prior to Netanyahu’s controversial visit to Washington that included a speech before both houses of Congress but not a visit to the White House, J Street launched its “Bibi Does not Speak for Me” campaign that enlisted social media to distribute a petition. While garnering some 20,000 signatures, the strategy also caught heat from other Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League.

Although then-ADL head Abraham Foxman also had suggested that Netanyahu continue his US visit but delay his speech, he complained that “J Street’s petition campaign that attempts to distance itself and American Jews from Israel’s duly elected prime minister is inflammatory and repugnant and exacerbates an already heated and politicized moment for US-Israel relations at a critical juncture.”

This time, however, J Street Director Jeremy Ben-Ami restricted his opposition to Netanyahu’s policies to a blog entry written on Monday, in which he suggested that a Trump administration might prove less supportive of Netanyahu’s agenda than some backers, including casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, had previously believed.

“We’ll be watching the White House closely on Wednesday for signs of where we are headed,” Ben-Ami wrote.

The force of the organization’s actions were directed instead at the Friedman confirmation hearing. The last half of Ben-Ami’s blog post on the upcoming meeting was devoted to J Street’s staunch opposition to Friedman’s nomination, and a call to supporters to lobby their senators against confirming the lawyer and Trump confidant.

Friedman is set to apologize for derogatory comments he made about liberal Jews year during the presidential campaign during his confirmation hearing, The New York Times reported Tuesday. 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.

J Street’s’s letter to senators warns that “Mr. Friedman poses a threat to longstanding US policies in the Middle East that have been supported by Democratic and Republican presidents alike,” adding that “the contempt Mr. Friedman has shown toward liberal American Jews – labeling them worse than Nazi collaborators – makes him a horrible choice to be our representative in Israel.”

New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch sent out a similar call to action on Friedman’s appointment, as did Americans for Peace Now.

David Friedman, Donald Trump's Israel envoy-nominee, speaking to reporters at a pro-Trump event in Jerusalem, October 26, 2016. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)
David Friedman, Donald Trump’s Israel envoy-nominee, speaking to reporters at a pro-Trump event in Jerusalem, October 26, 2016. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Americans for Peace Now also issued a statement in advance of the Wednesday meeting, criticizing Netanyahu’s management of US-Israel relations, but stopping short of issuing any call to action on the part of its supporters.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu knows what agenda he should advance in the White House if he wants to demonstrate true statesmanship and prudent leadership,” the organization wrote in a Tuesday statement. “If, however, he wants to continue importing Israel’s petty politics to Washington – as he has been doing for years – he will be serving neither the interest of Israel nor that of the United States.”

In addition to the protest scheduled outside of the White House Wednesday evening, other parallel protests were scheduled in other US cities.

In New York, protesters plan to build a “wall” around Trump Tower. The event is sponsored by the New York for Palestine coalition, which includes Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, and organizers say that in order to deliver the message that “from Palestine to Mexico, bans and walls have got to go,” they will “build a wall of resistance against Trump’s ‘White House North.’”

And in Los Angeles, Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews for Palestinian Right of Return will join a half-dozen other pro-Palestinian groups outside of the Wilshire Federal Building to protest the meeting as well as Friedman’s nomination.

“With settlement supporters like Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt in Trump’s inner circle, and the nomination of pro-annexation David Friedman as ambassador to Israel, it is clear there is a toxic love affair between Trump and the far right of Israeli society that could amount to a complete endorsement of Israel’s practices of occupation, discrimination, and displacement,” organizers of the Los Angeles protest warned.

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