David Friedman's Senate Confirmation Hearing Set to Begin Under Heavy Scrutiny

David Friedman's confirmation is likely to garner more attention than ambassadorial hearings usually do, thanks to his controversial views on Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. government.

Donald Trump, his daughter Ivanka, and David Friedman in New Jersey, 2010.
Bradley C. Bower / Bloomberg

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold its first confirmation hearing for David Friedman, President Trump's nominee for the position of ambassador to Israel, on Thursday morning. Friedman's confirmation is likely to garner more attention and interest than ambassadorial hearings usually do, thanks to his controversial views and statements with regards to Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. government that he's about to become a part of.

Friedman has said in the past that the U.S. State Department - his future employer if confirmed - is anti-Semitic. He has hurled a similar accusation at former President Barack Obama, and has called supporters of the Jewish left-wing group J Street "worse than Kapos" (Kapos were Jews compelled by the Nazis to carry out administrative tasks during the Holocaust). Friedman is expected to apologize for at least some of those statements during the hearing.

Friedman has no prior diplomatic experience, and received the nomination after being Trump's personal lawyer for many years, as well as serving as his adviser on Israel during the presidential campaign. Friedman's positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are to the right of the current Israeli leadership, as he has written in favor of a "one-state solution" that would include a widespread Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

On Wednesday, five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel published an unusual public letter, urging members of the Foreign Relations Committee to vote down Friedman's appointment on the grounds that he was "unqualified" for the position. The letter, obtained by Haaretz, was signed by former ambassadors who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations. It warned the committee members that Friedman holds "extremist, radical positions" and might lack the temperament for this sensitive diplomatic posting.

On Wednesday, Haaretz reported that Friedman dedicated a building in the West Bank settlement of Beit El in 1999 that was constructed illegally on privately owned Palestinian land.

In order to be confirmed, Friedman needs the support of at least 11 of the committee's 21 members. His easiest way to do so would be to rely solely on the support of the committee's 11 Republicans, who are all expected to vote in favor of his nomination. However, such a vote would be disappointing and even alarming for pro-Israel organizations in the U.S, who fear that Israel is slowly becoming a partisan and divisive issue in U.S. politics. That's why some of these groups hope to see a number of Democratic senators also voting in favor of the nomination. This is also why Friedman will likely try to walk back some of his more outrageous statements.

How Senate Foreign Relations Committee members are likely to vote on David Friedman's nomination.
Haaretz

Haaretz will report live from the hearing once it begins at 10:30 A.M. EST (5:30 P.M. Israel time). The actual vote on Friedman's confirmation is only expected to take place sometime next week.