February 24, 2017

Former Ambassadors Criticize Trump's Pick for Israel Envoy

17 February 2017, 01:17 | Taylor George

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David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer whose support for Israeli settlements and opposition to a two-state solution run counter to previous US positions, will be the first of Trump's ambassadorial nominees to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he heads to Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

"I provided some context for my remarks, but that was not in the nature of an excuse", he said. "While I maintain profound differences of opinion with some of my critics, I regret the use of such language".

The signatories took issue with Friedman's fervent and oft-repeated support for Israel's settlement activities in the West Bank and his strong opposition to the "two-state solution". He has also raised millions of dollars toward settlements, including one near the Palestinian city of Ramallah. He apologized to New Mexico Senator Tom Udall for referring to J Street, a liberal Jewish group, as "worse than the Kapos", or Jews who aided the Nazis. He also described US allies who have joined the fight against the Islamic State as a group of "cowards, freeloaders and hypocrites".

J Street has aggressively campaigned against Friedman's nomination. He specifically mentioned an exchange with Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the anti-Defamation league, which he called a bunch of "morons".

"First of all, the two-state solution is what we support".

Friedman went before the panel a day after Trump, during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, refused to explicitly back the two-state solution that has been us policy since 2002 - but also asked Netanyahu "to hold back on the settlements a bit".

Other protesters disrupted the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing as well.

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Friedman called strengthening the bond between the U.S and Israel of utmost importance to him. He asked him to clarify why he's willing to reverse himself on so many previous statements.

"The opportunity to serve my country as Israel's ambassador would be the fulfillment of a life's work", Friedman replied. Author A.B. Yehoshua, considered an "intellectual giant" of Israel's left-wing, recently said, "I have believed in dividing the land for 50 years, and now I see that it can not happen".

All the senators on the panel agreed that Israel policy should never become politicized, even though it has been; and they seemed determined not to aggravate the divide. Sen. Give her my number, Friedman said solemnly.

He did say to Netanyahu that he hoped that Israel would "hold off on settlements for a bit".

"I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like", Trump said. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio described Democrats' relentless questions about his prior statements as "unreal". James Risch of Idaho.

"Palestinians will always be in Palestine", shouted a man waving a red, green and black Palestinian flag.

The group - a mix of Democratic and Republican presidential choices spanning three decades - joined forces this week in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressing "concern" about David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who supports settlements.

The son of an Orthodox rabbi, Friedman's nomination is backed groups like the Zionist Organization of America and Christians United for Israel.

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Lindsey Graham, who said despite disagreements on some issues he never doubted the nominee's commitment to Israel. Friedman attacked J Street in December after the group said it was " vehemently opposed " to his nomination.

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