After Losing First Battle, Liberal Jews Vow to Take Fight Against Trump's Israel Pick to Senate Floor

Hotly contested nomination of David Friedman is a win in and of itself, J Street says, after Senate panel okays nomination of hardliner as U.S. ambassador to Israel.

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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.Credit: Susan Walsh/AP
Debra Nussbaum Cohen
Debra Nussbaum Cohen

NEW YORK — Liberal Jewish groups vowed on Thursday to press on with their fight against David Friedman being confirmed as ambassador to Israel, even after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's approval seemed to assure him of victory.

Friedman secured a 12 to 9 vote despite heavy opposition from progressive Jewish groups, rabbis, Holocaust scholars and survivors. A vocal supporter and funder of Israeli settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem , Friedman had accused former President Barack Obama of anti-Semitism and referred to J Street supporters as “worse than kappos.”

“We're going to continue to strongly oppose him in our lobbying efforts, and support the growing number of Democrats who have come out publicly in opposition to his nomination,” said Jessica Rosenblum, vice president of communications for J Street, the liberal Zionist Washington-based organization.

“They will carry this vigorous debate over his nomination to the Senate floor.”

It is not yet clear when the full Senate vote on Friedman will take place. It could happen as soon as Friday or in days or even weeks to come. It is up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to schedule.

J Street, together with other progressive Jewish groups including T’ruah, Americans for Peace Now, the New Israel Fund and National Council of Jewish Women, among others, coordinated petitions signed by some 40,000 people, letters and calls to senators, asking them to oppose Friedman.

Its members held “more than 150 meetings” with Senators on Capitol Hill last week, in a day of lobbying which followed J Street’s national conference in D.C.

The Union for Reform Judaism, which represents American Judaism’s largest denomination, also hopes to block Friedman’s appointment , marking the first time it has ever opposed the nomination of a U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Of course some in the U.S. Jewish community welcomed news of Friedman’s winning the Foreign Relations Committee’s vote.

“I am pleased that the committee recognized that this will be an extremely ardent Zionist with knowledge of the danger Israel faces from its neighbors, and recognizes that the Jews have more of a right to Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem than the Arabs do,” Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, told Haaretz in an interview.

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld is a wealth manager and lay leader of several mainstream Jewish organizations, including the World Jewish Congress and the New York Jewish Community Relations Council. With Friedman, “there will be a realistic approach” to the Israel-Palestine conflict, he told Haaretz.

“The Palestinian narrative of ‘professional refugees’ for five generations, and its enduring jihadist educational system, must be compelled to change, or else they will not get U.S. aid,” he said.

With Friedman as ambassador to Israel, now there will be “pressure on Palestinians instead of consistent pressure on Israel, and an understanding that negotiations must be face-to-face with the elimination of the fraudulent idea that the Palestinians can make peace without cultivating, through education, a constituency for peace.”

Still, theirs seems to be a minority view among American Jewish communal leaders.

Those opposed to Friedman made headway through their lobbying, noted some, and the fact that there is demonstrable opposition to his ambassadorship is a good sign.

"The level of opposition faced by David Friedmanwas unprecedented,” said Dylan Williams, J Street’s vice president of government affairs, in a statement. “This is by far the most contested vote on a nominee for U.S. ambassador to Israel ever.”

Previous ambassadors were considered consensus picks and easily passed Senate votes, said Washington insiders. The ZOA even lobbied in favor of senators voting for Daniel Shapiro, the immediate past U.S. ambassador to Israel, said Klein.

Shapiro “is further left wing than Friedman is right wing. Not only did no one make an issue of it, the ZOA endorsed him as a man of integrity and principal,” he told Haaretz.

“The fact that nine Senators voted against Friedman is a clear signal that he is a completely inappropriate and disastrous choice for such an important position. It shows that the committee heard, loud and clear, the objections and concerns of diplomatic experts, pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans and the American Jewish community,” said J Street’s Williams.

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