WASHINGTON — President Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel apologized for his past harsh rhetoric Thursday morning, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he shouldn’t have written the nasty things about liberal American Jews that he did.
David Friedman, Trump’s longtime attorney and a hardline right-wing supporter of new Israeli settlements in the West Bank, previously compared liberal American Jews to Kapos (Jewish collaborators with the Nazis) on multiple occasions, accused the Obama administration of “blatant anti-Semitism,” described Anti-Defamation League leaders as “morons” and said that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) internal debate over the Iran deal was “validating the worst appeasement of terrorism since Munich.”
He admitted those remarks were over the line, and promised that “The inflammatory rhetoric that accompanied the presidential campaign is entirely over.”
“Some of the language that I used during the highly charged presidential campaign that ended last November has come in for criticism, and rightfully so,” Friedman said during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “While I maintain profound differences of opinion with some of my critics, I regret the use of such language. I want to assure you that I understand the critical difference between the partisan rhetoric of a political contest and a diplomatic mission.”
Democrats questioned Friedman’s past controversial remarks, strong criticism of the goal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ties to right-wing Israeli political parties, and active support of new Israeli settlements in the West Bank — including funding one such settlement.
“I am uncertain of how you will represent all Americans to all Israelis … Why should I believe that these were just emotional expressions and that you now understand the difference between that role and that as a diplomat?” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) asked, calling Friedman’s record of financially supporting new settlements “troubling.”
“There is no excuse,” Friedman responded about his rhetoric. “If you want me to rationalize or justify it I cannot. These were hurtful words and I deeply regret them, they were not reflective of my nature or my character.”
Friedman apologized again and again for his past remarks, walking back comment after comment — to the point that even Republicans remarked upon it.
“You’re sitting here having to recant almost every single strongly held belief that you’d expressed,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said a few hours into the hearing. “This is fairly extraordinary.”
But to a man every Republican defended Friedman or asked him friendly questions, a sign that Friedman’s confirmation is likely to pass mostly along partisan lines, as many other confirmations have in recent days.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) blasted Friedman for his “offensive, inflammatory and insulting rhetoric,” calling him “completely unfit for this or any other diplomatic office” and pointing out that five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel had written a letter opposing his confirmation, including three that served during Republican administrations.
Protestors were less subtle.
“David Friedman is supporting the theft of Palestinian land!” yelled one protestor as he waved a Palestinian flag.
“You promote racism,” a Jewish protestor yelled after someone from her group blew a shofar. “Israeli occupation is an injustice against occupation and a moral crisis for American Jews.”
Friedman was introduced by former Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who told the Daily News he knew Friedman’s apology was “sincere and I hope it’s helpful to his cause.”
Democrats also pressed Friedman on President Trump’s Wednesday comments that he “can live with” either a one-state or two-state solution, a major break from decades-old U.S. policy of supporting the creation of a Palestinian state as part of an eventual peace agreement.
Friedman softened his previous criticism of the possibility of a two-state solution, calling it the “most ideal” path forward.
“I think it’s the path that has received the most thought and effort and consideration. Obviously it’s been tried for a long long time and we continue to wrestle with it… it still remains, I believe the best possibility for peace,” he said.
Earlier, Friedman said his “skepticism” in a two-state solution stemmed from “the unwillingness of Palestinians to renounce terror,” similar comments to what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, though he conceded he didn’t have a “better option” than a two-state solution.
And while he sought to apologize for his past rhetoric, he said he stood by his previous policy views.
“I have profound differences of opinion with the J Street organization. I don’t think that will change,” he said when asked about the liberal Jewish group. “My regrets are as to the language and the rhetoric, I’m not withdrawing my personal views towards the organization.”
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