Former ambassadors say Trump pick for Israel is unqualified

In letter to Senate committee, 5 ex-envoys to Israel question David Friedman’s ‘balance and temperament’

David Friedman, President Donald Trump's choice for ambassador to Israel. (Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP via AP)
David Friedman, President Donald Trump's choice for ambassador to Israel. (Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP via AP)

WASHINGTON — Five former US ambassadors to Israel said Wednesday that the man President Donald Trump has selected for the post is unqualified and are urging senators to carefully consider his nomination.

In a letter sent to members of the Foreign Relations Committee, the former diplomats said David Friedman has staked out “extreme, radical positions” and has derided the two-state solution as an “illusory” fix for a non-existent problem.

“We believe the committee should satisfy itself that Mr. Friedman has the balance and the temperament required to represent the United States as ambassador to Israel,” they wrote.

The committee is scheduled to meet Thursday for Friedman’s confirmation hearing.

Friedman’s nomination has drawn strong opposition from more liberan American-Jewish organizations and groups, including J Street whose members and backers he called “worse than kapos” — a reference to Jewish collaborators with Nazis — for their support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an op-ed last year.

Friedman’s representatives have indicated that he intends to apologize for the remark during the hearing Thursday, but the bankruptcy lawyer has also made problematic comments on other groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, whose leaders he called “morons” for raising questions about a pre-election ad in which Trump spoke about secretive international banking conspiracies while featuring images of Jews that Trump associated with his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Friedman has also called former president Barack Obama and his administration “blatantly anti-Semitic” and is a fervent supporter and financial backer of Israeli settlements, an opponent of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution.

He serves as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organization that supports a large West Bank settlement just outside Ramallah.

Trump, during a White House news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, was evasive about endorsing a two-state solution with the Palestinians. That would create an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and has been the international community’s preferred solution for nearly two decades.

“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. “If Israel is to carry on as a democratic, Jewish nation, respected internationally, we see no alternative to a two-state solution.”

The letter opposing Friedman’s nomination was signed by Thomas Pickering, William Harrop, Edward Walker, Daniel Kurtzer and James Cunningham.

This week, ahead of the confirmation hearing, a number of groups, 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 Friedman’s 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.

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