US envoy Friedman meets with J Street ‘kapos’
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US envoy Friedman meets with J Street ‘kapos’

Despite past tensions, left-wing Jewish group says meeting shows need to ‘maintain a dialogue among the pro-Israel community’

File: US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at a ceremony for new ambassadors at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 16, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Pool/Flash90)
File: US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at a ceremony for new ambassadors at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 16, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Pool/Flash90)

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Monday met with the leader of the left-wing American Jewish group J Street on Monday, after having once referred to the organization as being worse than Jews who collaborated with the Nazis.

Following Jeremy Ben-Ami’s meeting with Friedman, which was closed to the press, the group released a statement that stressed the importance of maintaining “an open line of communication” with people “different political backgrounds.”

The sit-down appeared to mark a burying of the hatchet between the sides, which were at loggerheads over Friedman’s assertion that the group was worse than “Kapos” — Jews who collaborated with the Nazis — in a column for the pro-settlement Israel National News website in June 2016.

“The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one?” he asked. “But J Street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas — it’s hard to imagine anyone worse.”

J Street in return declared Friedman unfit for the position of ambassador and campaigned against his confirmation.

J Street said that despite the harsh comments of the past it was important to talk.

“We value Ambassador Friedman’s willingness to meet with congressmen as part of the pro-Israel lobby J Street. We believe it is vital to keep an open line of communication between Jewish American and Israeli leaders with different political backgrounds,”J Street said.

“Its significance is that it symbolizes the will and desire to maintain a dialogue among the pro-Israel community, even with those that do not agree with J Street.”

The group also said it stressed to the US ambassador “the urgent need to advance the two-state solution.”

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)

Friedman had initially refused to walk back his remarks, telling the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum in December that those aligned with J Street are “not Jewish, and they’re not pro-Israel.”

J Street later referred to the comment in announcing its opposition to Friedman’s, saying that it rendered him “beyond the pale” for the role.

“As someone who has been a leading American friend of the settlement movement, who lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials and who has attacked liberal Jews who support two states as ‘worse than kapos,’ Friedman should be beyond the pale for senators considering who should represent the United States in Israel,” Ben-Ami said in December.

During his confirmation hearing in February, Friedman said he “deeply regrets” his remarks.

“I provided some context for my remarks, but that was not in the nature of an excuse,” Friedman said during the hearing. “These were hurtful words and I deeply regret them. They’re not reflective of my nature and character.”

Friedman noted during his testimony that he had personally apologized to Jewish senators and organizations he had offended, naming the Reform movement, the Anti-Defamation League and Minnesota’s Senator Al Franken. Ben-Ami, who was present at the hearing, noted on Twitter that J Street had yet to receive a similar overture. “Still waiting over here,” Ben-Ami said.

Despite his expression of remorse, J Street remained strongly opposed to his nomination and voiced its disappointment after he was confirmed.

Last week, Friedman appeared to refer to his comments about the group, admitting that in the past he had been “as guilty as anyone else of having entered the partisan divide that has unfortunately to some extent fractured the Jewish community.”

In addition to his comments on the group, J Street also opposed Friedman’s nomination for his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Prior to becoming ambassador, Friedman was a major donor to the settlement of Beit El and said that Israel can annex the West Bank and retain its Jewish character. J Street has been critical of Israeli settlement construction and is a vocal backer of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian peace conflict.

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