Senate Confirms Settlement-backer David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel

Controversial Trump appointment passes ■ Netanyahu: Israel welcomes Friedman as 'a staunch friend of Israel' ■ J Street 'heartened by unprecedented level of opposition.'

U.S. Ambassador-designate David Friedman testifies on Capitol Hill on February 16, 2017 at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
U.S. Ambassador-designate David Friedman testifies on Capitol Hill on February 16, 2017 at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Susan Walsh/AP

The U.S. Senate voted on Thursday 52-46 in favor of approving the appointment of David Friedman to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. The vote was divided almost completely in accordance with party lines. 

Just half an hour before, lawmakers voted on a procedural motion to allow for the final vote with 52 senators in favor the motion and 46 opposed, the same division as seen in the final vote of approval.

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Netanyahu said Israel welcomes Friedman's confirmation, saying that he would be received "with warmth and appreciation as President Trump's representative and as a staunch friend of Israel.

J Street responded to the final vote, saying that they were "heartened by the unprecedented level of opposition" Friedman faced in the approval process.

"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," said the group. "We hope, during his time in this role, the ambassador will live up to the promises of moderation that he made during his confirmation hearings, and that Congress and the administration will seek to hold him accountable to advancing longstanding bipartisan policy goals, including the two-state solution."

>> Read more: Fund headed by friedman pumped tens of millions into West Bank settlement | Friedman gave funds to settle Jews in Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City | Building dedicated by Friedman was constructed illegally on Palestinian land | Friedman's Israel connections - as revealed in his financial disclosure report >>

The New Israel Fund also responded to the appointment saying that while Friedman was approved, "anybody following his confirmation process can see that his extreme ultra-nationalist views have been repudiated. 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."

Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, said Friedman constituted "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."

Only two Democratic senators, Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), voted in favor of Friedman's nomination in the full Senate vote. Menendez was the sole Democrat who voted in favor of Friedman's nomination when it came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month. Manchin, who is up for reelection in 2018, represents a state that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in the last election, and has been more open than most fellow Democrats to supporting President Trump's nominees for office. 

All other Democrats voted against advancing Friedman's nomination, including Senators considered strong supporters of Israel, such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, who also voted against Friedman in the committee. 

Schumer and Cardin, like Menendez and Manchin, voted against the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, which makes their position on Friedman's nomination a warning sign for those hoping to preserve bi-partisan consensus on issues related to Israel. 

After the vote, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), a Jewish member of the Senate who is also up for reelection next year, spoke out against Friedman's nomination, explaining that Friedman's positions on settlements and two-state solution contradict U.S. policies and interests in the Middle East.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said that Friendman's leadership "will now be essential to maintaining and enhancing this historic bilateral relationship. We hope that, as was the case with the recent visit to Israel of Trump Administration advisor Jason Greenblatt, Mr. Friedman will engage with a range of voices and commit to openness and transparency." Jacobs added that he expects Friedman to hold true to his testimony that the two-state solution remains the best possibility for peace.  

Friedman's appointement proved to be contentious, particularly after his monetary connections to Israeli settlements in the West Bank were revealed. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Friedman's appointment two weeks ago. The committee's approval paved the way for a final vote by the final senate that would see Friedman officially assigned to his post.

At his committee hearings, Friedman backtracked on former statements, including written work, and financial ties by saying that he believed the two-state solution to be the best path to peace. In particular, a building dedicated to Friedman in the West Bank settlement of Beit El was revealed by Haaretz as having been illegally constructed on private Palestinian land.