David Friedman, U.S. President Trump's nominee for the post of ambassador to Israel, tried on Thursday to walk back on some of his past remarks by saying they were a result of the tense presidential campaign of 2016, in which he served as Trump's chief adviser on Israel.
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Friedman called supporters of J Street, a liberal Jewish group, "worse the kapos" – Jews who assisted the Nazis during the holocaust – and accused former President Obama and the U.S. State Department of anti-Semitism.
"I regret use of such language," Friedman said during his first hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The inflammatory rhetoric during the presidential campaign is entirely over. If confirmed, my language would be measured," he added. Friedman went a step further by saying that there was "no excuse" for his choice of words.
Yet Friedman's attempt to pin it all on the tension of the election campaign stands against his own conduct. Almost a full month after Trump's election victory, at a time when there were already rumors that Friedman could have a role in Trump’s administration, Friedman spoke before the annual Saban Forum in Washington and refused to apologize or take back his inflammatory language, including the remark about J Street.
The New York Times reported that at one closed panel, Friedman was interviewed by The Atlantic's Jeffery Goldberg and the issue of his remarks came up. "At a private session this month at the Saban Forum, an annual gathering of Israeli and American foreign policy figures, Mr. Friedman declined to disavow the comments and even intensified the sentiment," the paper reported.
"Mr. Friedman was asked if he would meet with various groups, including J Street. Mr. Friedman said he would probably meet with individuals but not with the group, according to several people who attended. Mr. Goldberg then raised the kapos comparison and asked if he stood by it. Mr. Friedman did not back away. ‘They’re not Jewish, and they’re not pro-Israel,’ he said, according to the people in the room," the report said.
Three people who attended the closed session told Haaretz on Thursday that Friedman indeed refused to apologize for the statement, which makes his claim before the committee that it was all a result of the election somewhat problematic. Still, it is likely that for many of the committee's 21 members, his apology and words of regret will be enough to vote in favor of his confirmation.