Top Jewish American Leader Gives Thumbs Up to David Friedman as Israel Envoy

'Given his background, his family lineage, his love for this country, and his general intellect – he has all the makings,' Conference of Presidents leader Stephen Greenberg says.

David Friedman, Trump's nominee for Israel ambassador, listens during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., Feb. 16, 2017.
Pete Marovich, Bloomberg

A top Jewish American leader expressed support on Sunday for the appointment of David Friedman as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel, but stopped short of an outright endorsement.

Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem, Stephen Greenberg, the chairman of the the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said he was impressed by the performance of U.S. President Donald Trump's pick for Israel ambassador during last Thursday’s confirmation hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“I thought he handled himself very well, but I am not allowed to say if we are for or against him,” said Greenberg, who noted that the Conference of Presidents, an umbrella organization that comprises 52 Jewish groups, was the first group Friedman met with after his nomination was announced by President Donald Trump.

“He is very well thought of as a creditor-debtor lawyer,” said Greenberg. “He has the confidence of the president. Certainly he is knowledgeable, and he is articulate.

"I think he has made some statements that he has come back and modified, and I think that given his background, his family lineage, his love for this country, and his general intellect – he has all the makings.”

On Friday, the Union for Reform Judaism took the unprecedented step of announcing its opposition to Friedman’s appointment. URJ is a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which is holding its annual gathering in Jerusalem this week.

Greenberg said he believed Friedman would be confirmed because the numbers were in his favor. All the Democrats in the Senate, along with three Republicans, would have to vote against him for the nomination to be blocked.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents, reported at the joint press conference that he and other delegation members had convened Sunday morning with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi before arriving in Jerusalem. That followed meetings they held last week with political leaders in Morocco.

“The important message of both meetings is that this is a new era and that there are new opportunities in the Arab world,” he said, noting that the Conference of Presidents has long been advocating for a broad-based Mediterranean initiative to solve regional conflicts.

“There is great interest in looking at ways to cooperate with Israel as a central hub in this kind of process,” he said.

Asked how he viewed the option of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, based on Trump's recent proposal that it also be considered, Hoenlein said:

“I don’t know what it will mean. We throw slogans around and we give titles to things without any understanding of what would be their consequences. I do agree with the president, however, that we need to start thinking out of the box.”

Hoenlein expressed hope that Trump would deal more forcefully with rising anti-Semitism in the United States.

“I think the president should help set the tone for country,” he said. “I’m hopeful that what he said about addressing hate and racism of all types will be translated into clear action.”