Trump's Pick for Israel Envoy: Where Do Jewish Groups Stand?

Religious right against liberal left: Ahead of this week’s critical vote, Haaretz presents a list of David Friedman’s friends and foes in the American Jewish world.

David Friedman takes a break from his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, February 16, 2017.
Susan Walsh/AP

With the Senate Foreign Relations Committee set to vote on Thursday on the appointment of David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel, America’s Jewish organizations have rarely been more split.

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Friedman’s hardline political views, which mark a sharp departure from longstanding U.S. policy, as well as his tendency to lash out at ideological opponents, have raised serious concerns about his suitability for the job.

While his main supporters have come from right-wing and religious organizations, his fiercest opponents are on the liberal left. Ahead of this week’s critical vote, Haaretz presents a list of Friedman’s friends and foes in the American Jewish organizational world. It also identifies those who, for whatever reason, have chosen to remain on the sidelines.

Who's for and who's against David Friedman, Trump's pick for Israel envoy: Where do Jewish groups stand?
Haaretz

Supporters

■ Zionist Organization of America: This right-wing organization has been one of Friedman’s most vocal supporters. In its endorsement, ZOA wrote that the candidate “has sterling qualifications, is one of America’s most eminent attorneys, speaks fluent Hebrew, is extraordinarily knowledgeable about the Middle East, and is the ideal nominee to restore and strengthen the vital U.S.-Israel alliance and the cause of real peace.

In addition, Mr. Friedman’s views reflect widely held views of the American public at large, the Jewish-American public, Congress and our major American political parties. In sum, Mr. Friedman will be a great credit to America and an upstanding representative of the American people.” 

■ Orthodox Union: The largest Orthodox organization in the United States, the OU sent a letter to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ahead of Friedman’s confirmation hearings, defending the candidate’s uncompromising positions and justifying his opposition (which he has since withdrawn) to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Although it was not an official endorsement, the letter noted that “many American Jews – certainly in the Orthodox Union’s Constituency – and other pro-Israel Americans share Mr. Friedman’s deep skepticism toward this decades-old approach, which has been tried and tested and failed repeatedly to deliver security and peace to the people of Israel, the Palestinians and the region.” 

■ American Jewish Congress: A once-important organization that has lost much of its clout, the AJC called on the Senate to approve Friedman’s appointment, saying such a move would “send a strong message to stop Palestinian incitement and murdering of Jews.” Acknowledging that Friedman’s views are not consensual, the heads of this non-affiliated organization said in their statement that “we feel strongly that a new approach is required to change the behavior of the international community and the Palestinian Authority.” 

■ National Council of Young Israel: This network of Orthodox synagogues was proud to point out in its endorsement that Friedman is a member of one of their Long Island congregations. Urging its members to contact their senators and express their support for Friedman, the organization noted that it shared many of Friedman’s positions.

“Upon being nominated, Friedman repeated his enthusiastic support for the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, a move consistent with legislation passed by Congress,” the organization said in a statement. “The expeditious relocation of the U.S. embassy to Israel’s capital is particularly important, in light of the regrettable passage of the U.N. Security Council Resolution that declared the Old City of Jerusalem as ‘occupied’ Palestinian Arab territory.”

■ Religious Zionists of America: The American affiliate of the World Mizrahi movement, RZA sufficed with a “Mazal Tov” to Friedman on its Facebook page.

■ Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations: An umbrella organization that comprises more than 50 groups that span the political and religious spectrum, the Conference of Presidents did not publish an official endorsement of Friedman. But at a press conference in Jerusalem in February, Stephen Greenberg, the chairman of the organization, said he thought the candidate had “all the makings” to become a good ambassador. It is worth pointing out that some of the organizations that are members of the Conference of Presidents have expressed opposition to Friedman’s appointment, others have voiced support, while still others have refrained from comment.

■ Jewish Federations of North America: The largest Jewish fundraising organization in the world, JFNA has not officially endorsed Friedman, but at an event sponsored by the Jewish Agency in Tel Aviv last week, the organization’s chairman Richard Sandler gave him quite the nod. “I believe he’s a very intelligent individual, and I think he’ll be a good representative if he is confirmed,” Sandler said. The JFNA leader drew fire for commenting on the controversial appointment.

Opponents

■ J Street: Leading the pack of opponents against Friedman’s appointment has been this pro-Israel anti-occupation group, which has been the target of some of the candidate’s most vile comments. Friedman had referred to J Street members as “worse than kapos” – a reference to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis. On the website of its “Stop Friedman” campaign, J Street writes:

“David Friedman, President Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Israel, is a leading supporter of the settlement movement who lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials. He has attacked fellow Jews and public figures with hateful accusations that should disqualify him from representing our country in any capacity, never mind in one of the region’s most sensitive and important diplomatic posts. Friedman is an unacceptable choice and should be beyond the pale for senators considering who should represent the United States in Israel.”

■ Union for Reform Judaism: In an unprecedented move, the largest Jewish movement in the United States issued a statement following Friedman’s confirmation hearings urging the Senate to block his appointment. “We have never before opposed the nomination of a U.S. ambassador,” the statement said. “We do so now because of our firm belief that Mr. Friedman is the wrong person for this essential job at this critical time.” Noting that Friedman had changed his tone during his confirmation hearings, the statement said:

“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.”

■ Americans for Peace Now: The sister organization of Israel’s Peace Now, APN issued a statement expressing “alarm” about U.S. President Donald Trump’s choice for ambassador, warning that his nomination was a “destabilizing move, which only adds fuel to the Israeli-Palestinian fire.”

■ Ameinu: This North American progressive Zionist movement has expressed strong opposition to Friedman’s appointment. In a statement, it said: “If approved, David Friedman would empower the most extreme forms of Zionism around the world and would direct U.S. power to perpetuate permanent Jewish domination of another people in the State of Israel, a result that would violate both central goals of Zionism.”

■ National Council of Jewish Women: Describing itself as “appalled” by Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel, the NCJW has issued a statement urging the Senate to block the appointment. “Friedman’s extremist views would lead us down a dangerous path to greater violence and self-destruction,” the statement warned. “Simply put, David Friedman is an irresponsible choice as U.S. ambassador to Israel. If confirmed, he could undermine Israel’s tradition bi-partisan support in the United States and alienate much of the American Jewish community.”

■ Partners for Progressive Israel: Affiliated with Israel's left-wing Meretz party, PPI worked closely with J Street in lobbying against Friedman’s appointment on Capitol Hill. In a letter published on its website, in which it encouraged supporters to send to their senators, the organization wrote: “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.”

■ Truah: An organization of rabbis dedicated to human rights, Truah has warned that Friedman “represents a threat to the security of Israelis, Palestinians and Jews everywhere.” The policies he supports, the organization said in a statement, “not only violate decades of U.S. policy, but also will only fuel resentment and could even provoke violence.” 

■ Jewish Voice for Peace: A non-Zionist leftist organization, JVP described Friedman’s nomination as a “distressing signal that the new administration will give the Israeli government a free hand to deepen its fundamentally undemocratic and abusive control over Palestinian land, resources and rights.”

Still on the sidelines

■ AIPAC

■ United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

■ Anti-Defamation League (although organization leaders did say, following the confirmation hearings, that they accepted Friedman’s apology for calling them “morons”)

■ American Jewish Committee (nothing beyond a polite congratulations)

>> This is how David Friedman's confirmation hearing will play out <<

How Senate Foreign Relations Committee members are likely to vote on David Friedman's nomination.
Haaretz