In recent weeks, progressive Jewish organizations have focused their campaign to block the appointment of David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel on one key Democrat: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. But the New York senator has withheld any comment on the highly controversial nominee, whose Senate confirmation hearings began Thursday.
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Is Schumer not concerned about Friedman’s warm embrace of Israel’s far right or his vicious attacks on respected Jewish-American organizations?
While Schumer has remained tight-lipped about Friedman, public records reveal that the two have a history dating back nearly 20 years.
The records show that Friedman and his wife Tammy contributed a total of $14,800 to Schumer’s various political campaigns. Of that, $9,800 came from Friedman and $5,000 from his wife. Together they have made 13 campaign contributions to Schumer starting back in 1998. The last donation was in 2010.
Asked to comment, Marisa Kaufman, a spokeswoman for Schumer said: “As with all nominees, Senator Schumer will decide how he votes based solely on the person’s record, viewpoints, skill-level and the answers provided during testimony.” Schumer, it should be noted, has also received donations in the past from another, far more famous, New York resident: U.S. President Donald Trump.
The Friedmans have donated to the political campaigns of others senators and congressmen as well, both Democrats and Republicans, but Schumer has clearly been one of their main beneficiaries. Among prominent Democrats, both former Vice President Joe Biden and former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid have received campaign contributions from the couple.
For Friedman’s appointment to be blocked, all the Democrats and at least three Senate Republicans would have to vote against him. Other Jewish Democrats have voiced opposition to Friedman’s appointment, but since they are members of the House of Representatives and not the Senate, they cannot vote. Kirsten Gillibrand, the other New York senator, has issued a statement expressing “serious concerns” about Friedman’s nomination.
A bankruptcy lawyer, Friedman also serves as president of an organization that raises funds for the West Bank settlement Beit El.
His donations to Schumer’s political campaigns have not prevented Friedman from attacking the Democratic senator viciously in recent years on matters concerning Israel. In a column he wrote for Arutz Sheva, the news website supported by the Beit El fundraising organization, Friedman accused Schumer of “appeasement of terrorism” for not coming out against the Iranian nuclear deal sooner, describing him as an “excellent example” of “why people do not trust politicians.”
“This political theatre has all the suspense of a B movie,” Friedman wrote in the article, which was widely cited during his Senate confirmation hearings on Thursday. “No matter how he ultimately votes, by making his decision such a close call – which it plainly should not be – Schumer is validating the worst appeasement of terrorism since Munich.”
Last month, 120 Jewish-studies professors representing universities and colleges across the United States sent a letter to Schumer urging him to vote against Friedman’s appointment.
In the letter, they noted that the nominee for this highly sensitive position had referred to members of J Street, a pro-Israel, anti-occupation group, as “worse than Kapos” – Jews who worked for the Nazis in concentration camps. Friedman has also said the Anti-Defamation League is made up of “a bunch of morons.” On Thursday, Friedman said he regretted the use of such language during the presidential campaign.
“Mr. Friedman’s rhetorical extremism is cause for grave concern on its own,” the professors 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.”
Ricki Lieberman, a Democratic Party activist based in Israel who has worked as a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, has been encouraging the thousands of Trump opponents on her mailing list to write letters to Schumer expressing their opposition to Friedman’s appointment. “No senator who supports Israel and who seeks a peaceful solution for the Middle East should vote for Friedman,” she wrote them.