In Bid to Block David Friedman’s Ambassadorship, Liberal Jews Lean on Chuck Schumer

120 Jewish studies professors urge incoming Senate Minority leader to vote against Trump's appointment for U.S. envoy to Israel, citing his incendiary remarks on organizations such as J Street and the ADL.

David Friedman arrives at a private fundraiser for then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in the Manhattan borough of New York City, June 21, 2016.
MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS

Jewish activists opposed to the appointment of David Friedman as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel are focusing their lobbying efforts, ahead of the confirmation hearings, on one key Democrat: incoming Senate Minority leader Charles Schumer.

Over the weekend, a group of 120 professors of Jewish studies, representing universities and colleges across the United States, sent a letter to Schumer urging him to vote against the appointment.  In their letter, they noted that Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who has worked for President-elect Donald Trump for the past 15 years, has referred to members of J Street, the pro-Israel, anti-occupation, as “worse than Kapos” and has said that the Anti-Defamation League is comprised of  “a bunch of morons.”

“Mr. Friedman’s rhetorical extremism is cause for grave concern on its own,” they wrote, “But it is matched, if not superseded, by the extremism of his positions on Israel, which demonstrate that he cannot be an impartial broker of peace or an effective diplomat. 

AP

“He is the president of a charity supporting Beit El, a radical West Bank settlement that hosts the far-right website Arutz Sheva, to which he himself has contributed. Of even greater concern, Mr. Friedman’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict place him to the far right even of the current Israeli government. He is opposed to a two-state solution, which has been America’s own policy for several decades. He favors annexation of the West Bank, in contravention of international law, the consequences of which would be the denial of the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and, if the Palestinians of the West Bank are not granted Israeli citizenship, the end of Israeli democracy.”

For Friedman’s appointment to be blocked, all the Democrats, as well as at least three Senate Republicans, would have to vote against him. While other Jewish Democrats have already voiced opposition to Friedman’s appointment, Schumer has thus far withheld comment saying he has yet to meet with the nominee. 

Although the Senate confirmation hearings for other Trump administration appointments have begun, no date has yet been scheduled for Friedman’s. Typically, the ambassador appointments come up for a vote after all the top administration positions have been approved, in which case it could take several months before Friedman’s hearings begin.

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said his organization was encouraging supporters with director personal connections to Schumer to reach out to the New York senator and convey their concerns. “If there is any hope of preventing this appointment, then you need all the Democrats on board, and Schumer is critical in that sense,” he told Haaretz.

J Street is advising its supporters to send their senators, whoever they may be, letters urging them to reject Friedman’s nomination.  It has a draft of a recommended letter posted on its website.

“Mr. Friedman poses a threat to longstanding U.S. policies in the Middle East that have been supported by Democratic and Republican presidents alike,” that letter says. “He is hostile to the two-state solution - the only way to ensure Israel’s future as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people. He is a friend of the settlement movement and an avid supporter of further settlement expansion. He's shown disdain for Israel's Arab population, questioning their value to Israeli society. He has even made the case for Israel's annexation of the West Bank.” 

The J Street letter, notes, in addition that “the contempt Mr. Friedman has shown toward liberal American Jews - labeling them worse than Nazi collaborators - makes him a horrible choice to be our representative in Israel.”

Ricki Lieberman, a Democratic Party activist based in Israel who has worked as a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, is encouraging the “many thousands” of Trump opponents on her email list to write letters to Schumer expressing their opposition to Friedman’s appointment.  Noting that other Democrats have already spoken out strongly against his nomination, she pointed out in a recent email that Schumer had yet to weigh in. 

“I would encourage all who believe in a democratic, Jewish Israel, to make their views known to Schumer and their senators who will vote on the nomination,” she wrote. “By his own words, Friedman is an extremist, allied with the most anti-democratic, right-wing elements in Israel.  He opposes a two state solution and actively supports the occupation that is so destructive and corrosive to Israel’s present and future.”

Lieberman urged those opposed to Friedman’s appointment to communicate their positions through direct emails and phone calls to the offices of their state representatives.  “No senator who supports Israel and who seeks a peaceful solution for the Middle East should vote for Friedman,” she wrote, “and it is critical that constituents inundate Congress to that effect.  Please act now!”