U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman Monday met with representative of the left wing pro-Israel lobby J Street in Tel Aviv. During the presidential campaign, when Friedman served as Donald Trump's adviser on Israel, he said the organization's members were "worse than kapos" – the Jews who assisted the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The J Street delegation was led in the meeting by Jeremy Ben-Ami, the organization's president, and was attended by seven Democratic congressmen who support the left wing Jewish-American group, as well as some of its senior members.
A source with knowledge of the meeting but who requested to remain anonymous said that J Street had requested the meeting with Friedman during the delegation's visit to Israel, much like the meeting held with his predecessor Dan Shapiro. The new American ambassador responded in the affirmative to the request. This is the first official meeting between Freidman and J Street.
"Ambassador Friedman committed to meeting with all the Jewish organizations in the U.S. and he is standing by his word," the source said.
After the meeting, J Street said in a statement that "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."
They said that though the talk was closed off to media and its contents were off the record, "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." It added it was happy to use the opportunity to remind Israeli, Palestinian and American leaders about "the urgent need to advance the two-state solution."
During the presidential campaign, Friedman causes a storm in the U.S. Jewish community when he used such rhetoric to attack J Street - which supported Democrat Hillary Clinton and worked against Trump. In an article published on the English-language version of the Arutz Sheva (Israel National News) web site, he wrote that members of J Street are worse than the Jews who cooperated with the Nazis.
"Are J Street supporters really as bad as kapos? The answer, actually, is no. They are far worse than kapos – Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps. The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one? 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," he wrote.
After Trump announced his intention of appointing Friedman as his ambassador to Israel, J Street came out against the appointment, citing Friedman's positions on the conflict as well as the comments he made against liberal Jewry. J Street led the campaign in the Senate to stop Friedman's confirmation, leading to an unprecedented situation in which 44 of 46 Democratic senators opposed his appointment. Friedman's predecessor enjoyed widespread bipartisan support from almost the entire Senate.
During his confirmation hearing at the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee in February, Friedman to backtrack from the statements he made against J Street.
"I regret use of such language," Friedman said regarding his comments on Democrats and leftists in the U.S. and in Israel. "The inflammatory rhetoric during the presidential campaign is entirely over. If confirmed, my language would be measured," he said, adding there was "no excuse" for his choice of words.
During his hearing, and even after he was confirmed, Friedman repeatedly stressed that he will maintain contacts with all of the Jewish organizations in the U.S. and with people from across the Israeli political spectrum.
Last week, during his first speech since assuming the post, Friedman beat his breast, saying that in the past he made comments that did little to help the unity of the Jewish people and committed to working to increase ties between U.S. and Israeli Jews.
“I am as guilty as anyone else for having entered the partisan divide that has, unfortunately, to some extent fractured the Jewish community in the U.S. and in Israel. But it has to end.”
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