J Street hits back at US envoy Friedman after AIPAC jab

Responding to US envoy, liberal Jewish group says suggesting Trump, Netanyahu governments are not committed to peace is ‘not blasphemous’

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)

Dovish lobbying group J Street on Tuesday hit back at the US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, after he intimated that the group’s approach to Israel and Middle East peace was “dangerous” and “disingenuous.”

“It’s not blasphemous to suggest that the settlement movement and its allies in the Netanyahu and Trump governments are not committed to peace,” J Street founder and director Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement.

He said that Netanyahu, Trump, and their political allies “have spent years helping to expand and entrench the occupation — undermining the two-state solution and endangering Israel’s future.”

In remarks to the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington earlier on Tuesday, Friedman, in an apparent jab at J Street and other left-wing groups, said it was “dangerous” to say that Israel is not committed to Middle East peace.

“Saying that you are pro-Israel and pro-peace is disingenuous,” he told the 18,000-strong audience.

“Using that phrase suggests Israel is not pro-peace. Saying pro-Israel and pro-peace is a redundancy,” Friedman elaborated. “If you support Israel, you support peace, and it’s dangerous to suggest otherwise.”

J Street’s motto is “pro-Israel, pro-peace.”

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

Before becoming ambassador, Friedman came under fire for calling J Street members “far worse than Kapos,” a reference to Jews who were forced to collaborate with Nazis in the Holocaust. In a 2016 op-ed published on the far-right Israel National News website, Friedman called the group “smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas — it’s hard to imagine anyone worse.”

Friedman initially refused to walk back his remarks, but eventually apologized during his confirmation hearing last February.

J Street at the time slammed Friedman’s comments, saying they rendered him “beyond the pale” for the role of a US ambassador.

The dovish group was strongly opposed to Friedman’s nomination and voiced its disappointment after he was confirmed.

After his jab on Tuesday, J Street said the traditional, pro-Israel camp was becoming worried by the growing number of Israelis and Americans who are pushing back against Trump and Netanyahu’s “dangerous agenda.”

“If Ambassador Friedman wants to defend settlements, demonize Palestinians, oppose the two state-solution, and still claim to support peace, that’s his right,” Ben-Ami said. “Meanwhile, the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement will oppose his policies and continue to work to actually promote peace and secure Israel’s future.”

“Clearly, they are now deeply worried about the growing movement of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans pushing back on their dangerous agenda,” he said.

In a follow up tweet, Ben-Ami accused Friedman of slandering his political opponents.

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