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Netanyahu, settlers welcome confirmation of Trump envoy pick

PM says David Friedman will be warmly received in Jerusalem; J Street, NIF ‘heartened’ by opposition to appointment

David Friedman, confirmed as US Ambassador to Israel, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
David Friedman, confirmed as US Ambassador to Israel, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the confirmation by the US Senate on Thursday of David Friedman as US envoy to Israel, saying he would be received warmly by Israel.

Netanyahu took to Twitter to say that Friedman would be “warmly welcomed as US President Trump’s representative and as a close friend of Israel.”

Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer also congratulated Friedman on social media, posting on Twitter that he was “looking forward to working closely with [Friedman] to make the US-Israel alliance stronger than ever.”

The 57-year-old bankruptcy attorney, a Hebrew-speaker and longtime friend of the president’s, will be taking up a position considered one of the most sensitive diplomatic assignments, overcoming a confirmation process that had been fraught with controversy.

A vocal and financial supporter of the settlement movement, Friedman has been outspoken in his belief that West Bank settlement activity is not an obstacle to peace and that Israel does not face a “demographic threat” to its Jewish character if it fails to separate from the Palestinians, a break from US policy over the last decades.

The settler umbrella group the Yesha Council also welcomed the confirmation, caling Friedman “a true friend of Israel that [sic] has a deep understanding of the reality on the ground and he will be a great asset to Israeli-American relations.”

“The Yesha Council look forward to working together with him to build a brighter future for everyone in the region. The Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria are an integral piece in the puzzle for peace and can no longer be sidelined,” said Chief Foreign Envoy of the YESHA Council Oded Revivi in a statement on Thursday.

The Republican Jewish Coalition echoed that sentiment, saying Friedman would be “an effective and important voice representing the United States” and that with him as the new ambassador, “there is no question that the relationship between the US and Israel will grow stronger.”

Friedman has no diplomatic or political experience going into the job. He will replace Dan Shapiro, who, before taking the ambassador’s post, was the senior director for the Middle East and North Africa on the US National Security Council.

David Friedman, left, and Marc Zell at a pro-Trump rally in Jerusalem, October 26, 2016 (screen shot Facebook Republicans Overseas Israel)
David Friedman, left, and Marc Zell at a pro-Trump rally in Jerusalem, October 26, 2016 (screen shot Facebook Republicans Overseas Israel)

Friedman served along with Jason Greenblatt on Trump’s Israel advisory committee during the campaign, becoming one of his main representatives to the Jewish community and Jewish media.

But Trump and Greenblatt have both appeared to pull back from the perception that they would allow unfettered settlement building, and its not clear if Friedman will as well. During a confirmation hearing he appeared to present a more moderate stance on the issue.

Over the course of the campaign, Friedman was known as a firebrand willing to hurl incendiary rhetoric toward those with whom he disagreed about Israel.

Donald Trump and attorney David Friedman exit the Federal Building, following an appearance in US Bankruptcy Court on February 25, 2010, in Camden, New Jersey. (Bradley C. Bower/Bloomberg News, via Getty Images/JTA)
Donald Trump and attorney David Friedman exit the Federal Building, following an appearance in US Bankruptcy Court on February 25, 2010, in Camden, New Jersey. (Bradley C. Bower/Bloomberg News, via Getty Images/JTA)

Perhaps most notably, in a June column for the far-right Israel National News website, Friedman accused supporters of the dovish group J Street of being “far worse than capos,” referring to Jews who aided Nazis during the Holocaust.

He apologized for the statement during a confirmation hearing last month.

In a statement, J Street said it was “heartened” to see the amount of opposition to Friedman’s appointment.

“Almost half of the Senate voted to oppose this deeply unqualified and inappropriate nominee, whose predecessors had all been confirmed without a single vote cast against them. The strong opposition to Friedman made clear that his extreme views and rhetoric about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are firmly outside the mainstream of American policy making,” the left-wing group said.

“The important position of US Ambassador to Israel has previously been filled by well-respected public servants capable of garnering unanimous, bipartisan support. It is truly sad that it will now be taken up by such a divisive and aggressive figure, whose life has been dedicated to advancing a dangerous ideological agenda in Israel and the West Bank,” the group said.

The New Israel Fund said in a statement Thursday that Friedman “may have just been confirmed to serve as the new US ambassador to Israel, but anybody following his confirmation process can see that his extreme ultra-nationalist views have been repudiated.”

“There is no other way to explain the overwhelming objections from the American Jewish community, from scholars, and from the retired American diplomatic corps. There is no other way to explain his last-minute disavowal of almost everything he has ever claimed to believe in during his confirmation hearing,” NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch said.

The group said Freidman’s “actions and words have demonstrated a long-standing alignment with the ultra-nationalist extreme of the Israeli government, and strong support for the settler movement he has funded and championed throughout his life.”

“This is a danger to the two-state solution, and his appointment may signal the end of the era in which America has taken seriously its responsibility to defend human rights and to promote democracy in Israel and in the region,” Sokatch said.

The Union for Reform Judaism said that while they had opposed his appointment, the now hope that like Greenblatt, Friedman “will engage with a range of voices and commit to openness and transparency.”

“We will also hold Ambassador Friedman to the testimony he offered during his confirmation hearing in which he affirmed that the two-state solution remains the best possibility for peace. We couldn’t agree more that two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security must remain the ultimate goal,” a statement said.

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