Jewish Federation Head Voices Support for David Friedman as U.S. Envoy to Israel

'I think he’ll be a good representative if he is confirmed,' Richard Sandler says. 'My expectations of him are very positive.'

David Friedman testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Israel, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 16, 2017.
YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS

The head of one of the most prominent Jewish-American organizations expressed support on Sunday for U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial choice for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. 

“I believe he’s a very intelligent individual, and I think he’ll be a good representative if he is confirmed,” said Richard Sandler, chair of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America. “My expectations of him are very positive.”

Although various progressive Jewish organizations have been campaigning to block Friedman’s appointment, Sandler is the latest Jewish-American establishment figure to endorse him.

Last week, Stephen Greenberg, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations also expressed confidence in Friedman’s capabilities but stopped short of an official endorsement. 

Speaking in Tel Aviv during the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting, Sandler said he had met Friedman several times in the past and was impressed with his knowledge of Israel and of U.S.-Israel relations.

“Obviously he made certain comments before he knew he was going to be vetted for the position of ambassador, but I thought he explained himself very well during the Senate hearings,” he said.

The Senate Foreign Relations committee held its confirmation hearings on Friedman’s appointment less than two weeks ago. Its members have yet to vote, however.

A staunch supporter of the West Bank settlement movement, Friedman had in the past rejected the notion of a two-state solution. During the confirmation hearings, however, he changed his position, expressing his support for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Friedman has come under considerable criticism for his vicious attacks against liberal Jews, in particular his likening of members of J Street, the pro-Israel anti-occupation organization, to kapos – a reference to Jews who collaborated with Nazis during the Holocaust. During the confirmation hearings, he expressed regret for these attacks. 

Sandler said he believed there was a tendency among liberal Jewish-Americans to underestimate Trump. “I think he is probably more knowledgeable than some people think on a number of topics,” he said, “and I think he’s serious about wanting to find a solution here. I’m sure that whatever policies he and those around him decide are the right ones, Mr. Friedman will reflect when he is here.”

Sandler expressed concerns about deepening divides within the Jewish-American community ever since the election. “At the federations, we see that as part of our responsibility now – bringing the community together,” he said. “We don’t have a problem attacking one another, but we have a problem talking to one another.”

At the same time, he said, he drew hope that relations between Israel and the United States would improve under the new administration. “There is no question that relationships mean a lot to Mr. Trump and he clearly has good chemistry with the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] right now,” he said. “I would not underestimate the importance of that personal relationship.”