Jewish Groups Campaign to Block Friedman as U.S. Envoy to Israel

Organizations looking to pressure senators who back two-state solution to reject nomination of Friedman, a pro-settlement right-winger.

David Friedman, left, with Donald Trump and Ivanka Trump, in Camden, New Jersey, Feb. 25, 2010.
Bradley C. Bower / Bloomberg

NEW YORK – A coalition of liberal Jewish groups will launch a campaign Monday which, they say, is aimed at stopping elected officials from confirming David Friedman as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel.

All of them are strongly opposed to the nomination of Friedman, who is known to be a pro-settlement right winger who has talked of annexing parts of the West Bank to Israel.

One of the organizations, J Street, gave 124 Congressional candidates a total of $3.6 million in the recent election cycle through its political action committee. The vote on Friedman’s ambassadorship to Israel will test whether the elected officials – who all publicly support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, something Friedman opposes – are ready to stand by their principles, said a J Street board member.

“Friedman opposes the two-state solution and thus breaks with long-standing bipartisan U.S. policy on Israel, a policy that even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorses. David Friedman has called the two-state solution an ‘illusion,’ an ‘anachronism’ and ‘a narrative that needs to end,’ wrote Americans for Peace Now (APN), in a statement when Friedman was nominated last Thursday.

Friedman serves as president of the American Friends of Bet El Institutions, which supports the West Bank settlement of Beit El (as it is more commonly spelled), and recently called J Street and its supporters “far worse than kapos” – the Jews who supervised other Jews in the Nazi concentration camps.

Starting Monday, APN, J Street, the New Israel Fund and Ameinu plan to ask constituents to contact their senators, urging them to oppose Friedman’s nomination. Some groups posted the email form on their websites Friday and over the weekend, though the main push is to begin this week.

Ambassadorial nominations must first pass through the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which presently has 10 Republican members and nine Democratic members. If it passes this hurdle, the nomination is then sent to the full Senate for a vote.

Nearly all such nominations are approved, according to experts.

Tevi Troy, a liaison to the Jewish community in the George W. Bush White House, told Haaretz he thinks the groups' move “has no chance. It’s silly. It’s very rare to get an ambassador voted down, especially when the president’s party is the majority in the Senate.”

Troy, who authored the new book “Shall We Wake the President? Two Centuries of Disaster Management in the Oval Office,” added: “I’m surprised that the Jewish community is not more supportive of Friedman. It’s nice to have a committed Jew as the ambassador. People should be praising his nomination, rather than making a futile effort to scuttle it.”

That’s not stopping liberal Jewish groups from trying, though.

“We think this is someone completely unqualified to serve as ambassador. We are hopeful senators of both parties will find that he does not meet the litmus test for a position like this,” said J Street representative Logan Bayroff.

The campaign to stop Friedman from becoming ambassador to Israel also marks the first time that the New Israel Fund will be participating in a domestic U.S. political issue. NIF provides money and other types of assistance to progressive Israeli nonprofits working on a range of civil rights issues.

“We think this is the kind of fight going to the mat for, win or lose,” said NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch. “It’s a significant moment for us. In this case, we feel we have to exercise the tools of liberal democracy to protect liberal democracy. This is a test for us, working on this side of the ocean, but these are extraordinary times.

“What we’re seeing in Israel, Brexit, with Trump, is a tide of neo-authoritarianism sweeping the globe. We have to push back against this. Our donors understand that, just as what’s happened in Israel and the Tea Party and Trump are all connected by themes of xenophobia and nationalism, so are we connected” in opposition.

“This may be the first time we do this,” added Sokatch, “but I suspect it won’t be the last.”

Peter Frey, a retired Wall Street executive and member of J Street’s national board, said: “It’s going to be an interesting test for members of Congress, especially Jewish ones, who have given lip service to being in favor of the two-state solution. It will also be a test of [pro-Israel lobby] AIPAC, whose platform favors the two-state solution. Friedman is in favor of annexation” of the West Bank to Israel, he said.

J Street has put significant skin in the game, and hopes to leverage its recent political contributions. J Street PAC gave a record $3.6 million to the Congressional candidates it endorsed in the last election cycle. That, said Bayroff, makes it the largest pro-Israel PAC the fifth time in a row.

Ninety-nine members of the next House of Representatives were endorsed by J Street PAC, as were 19 members of the incoming Senate.

The vote on Friedman “will be a very interesting test,” said Frey. “You cannot be supporting this nomination and say you are wholeheartedly behind a two-state solution. They are just not reconcilable.”