In Unprecedented Step, Reform Jewish Movement Opposes Trump's Pick for Israel Envoy

David Friedman lacks both the 'basic qualifications' and 'temperament' required by the position of Israel envoy, the largest Jewish movement in North America says.

David Friedman, Trump's nominee for Israel ambassador, listens during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., Feb. 16, 2017.
Pete Marovich, Bloomberg

The Reform Jewish movement, the largest Jewish movement in North America, took an unprecedented step on Friday by announcing its opposition to the nomination of David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel. It is the first time that the movement has taken such a position against a nominee to this diplomatic post. 

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement: “This is a critical moment. Never before have we opposed the nomination of a U.S. ambassador. We do so now because of the imperative need for us to voice our concerns about this critically important appointment. Our statement comes from our deep love for Israel and our fear that longstanding bipartisan support for Israel hangs in the balance.”

In a joint statement signed by the heads of all the movement's main organizations and bodies, Friedman was described as someone who "lacks the basic qualifications for the position" and "lacks the necessary temperament for such a sensitive position." This conclusion was reached after Friedman held a personal conversation with Jacobs, and after the other movement representatives who signed the statement watched Friedman's first hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday. 

"We have never before opposed the nomination of a U.S. ambassador. We do so now because of our firm belief that Mr. Friedman is the wrong person for this essential job at this critical time," said the statement. The statement added that the signatories have no doubt that Friedman has deep love for Israel, but that this by itself is not enough to make him qualified for the position of ambassador. 

"Mr. Friedman’s views on key issues suggest he will not be able to play a constructive role," the statement explained. "The U.S. ambassador to Israel has the important responsibility of advising, shaping and helping implement the president’s foreign policy goals. Indeed, it appears that Mr. Friedman’s extreme views on key issues related to the two-state solution, Israel’s borders, settlements and the location of the U.S. Embassy are already reflected in the White House. Such positions are detrimental to peace and a strong U.S.-Israel relationship." 

At his hearing on Thursday, Friedman tried to walk back many of his past remarks. He said that he regretted calling supporters of the left-wing Jewish group J Street "worse than kapos," said that he supported a two-state solution (while expressing doubt that the Palestinians were ready to accept it,) and said he did not think former President Barack Obama is an anti-Semite. He also said that under a future peace deal, he would support the evacuation of Beit El, a West Bank settlements he donated thousands of dollars to, if it would pave the way for peace.

In the Reform movement's statement, however, the leadership wrote that "we simply can’t accept that Mr. Friedman’s moderated position as expressed in his confirmation hearing replaces a long and detailed history that he has on Israel, both in his stated comments and his philanthropy. He has invested significant dollars in support of the settlements and a vision of Israel that we believe endangers both American and Israeli security and other interests in the region."

The statement, however, also criticized the protesters – some of them Jewish – who interrupted during Friedman's lengthy hearing on Thursday. "Just as we are critical of Mr. Friedman’s lack of diplomatic temperament, we wish to distance ourselves from the protesters who repeatedly interrupted his hearing. Mr. Friedman deserves a hearing, and senators deserve a chance to ask him the important questions they have about his fitness for this office."