Top Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations Committee won’t support Friedman
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Top Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations Committee won’t support Friedman

With the panel set to vote on Trump’s Israel envoy pick on Thursday, Ben Cardin says he will oppose the nomination

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Sen. Ben Cardin speaking at a news conference with other leading Democratic senators at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, November 19, 2015. (JTA/Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
Sen. Ben Cardin speaking at a news conference with other leading Democratic senators at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, November 19, 2015. (JTA/Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

WASHINGTON — One day before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on David Friedman’s nomination to be the US ambassador to Israel, the top Democrat on the committee said he won’t support President Donald Trump’s pick for the post.

“Following extensive consideration of Mr. Friedman’s record and taking into account his statements during his nomination hearing, I have concluded that his past record would make it very difficult for him to serve as that unifying force,” Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland said in a statement. “For that reason, I am unable to support his nomination as America’s top diplomat in Israel.”

Despite Cardin’s opposition to Friedman’s nomination — likely along with every other Democrat on the committee — the former bankruptcy lawyer is projected to survive the committee and move on to a full vote in the Senate.

Friedman’s committee vote is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. (5 p.m. in Israel) Thursday.

Cardin said he was most bothered by the 57-year-old Long Island native’s history of comments on the two-state solution, which he said rendered him unable to be a true facilitator of peace between the sides.

Friedman has, in the past, derided that prospective outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a November 2016 interview with The Times of Israel, he stated that, based on his discussions with Trump, “a two-state solution is not a priority” for the president-elect. “I don’t think he is wed to any particularly outcome. A two-state solution is a way, but it’s not the only way.”

US President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM LO SCALZO)
US President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, February 28, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM LO SCALZO)

Friedman has also been an active supporter — both financially and vocally — of Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank.

Over the course of the campaign, he was outspoken about his belief that West Bank settlement activity is not an obstacle to peace and that Israel would not face a “demographic threat” to its Jewish character if it were to fail to separate from the Palestinians.

He did express a willingness, however, to support a two-state outcome in his nomination hearing last month. But that did not satisfy Cardin, who said he remained skeptical.

“Taken together, Mr. Friedman’s statements and affiliations make it clear that he does not believe the two-state solution is necessary for a just and lasting peace,” he said. “I am concerned that Mr. Friedman’s history on this issue undermines his ability to represent the United States as a credible facilitator of the peace process.”

David Friedman, nominated to be 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, nominated to be 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)

Cardin also noted Friedman’s controversial and incendiary rhetoric during the campaign — most notably, he labeled the liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street “worse than capos.”

Friedman had later walked back the comments, saying he regretted them and that they it did not reflect his true feelings.

Cardin was ultimately unconvinced.

“I appreciate Mr. Friedman’s efforts before the Committee to express regret for his record of divisive, inflammatory, and offensive statements,” he said. “Unfortunately, I believe that the body of Mr. Friedman’s published work will compromise his effectiveness representing the United States — and all Americans — to the Government of Israel and all Israelis.”

If confirmed, Friedman 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.

J Street, which has forged a campaign to block Friedman’s confirmation, released a statement lauding Cardin’s decision.

“Senator Cardin’s opposition to David Friedman’s nomination is a significant step,” the group’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said. “As a strong supporter of Israel and the Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Cardin’s statement signals the growing recognition that Friedman is an inappropriate choice to serve as ambassador.”

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