Pick for ambassador to Israel faces hecklers, tough questions
WASHINGTON—David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, had barely started his opening remarks at his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday when the protests began.
“Palestinians will always be in Palestine,” shouted a man waving a red, green and black Palestinian flag.
“You do not represent us!” an American Jew in a kippa shouted a few minutes later.
After guards escorted the hecklers out, Friedman faced tough questioning from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who are skeptical he can conduct diplomacy given his harsh pro-Israel views and incendiary insults.
In recent years, Friedman has called then President Barack Obama, other Democratic leaders and critics of Israeli actions anti-Semitic. He likened liberal American Jews to Holocaust-era kapos, Jews who collaborated with the Nazis in concentration camps. He once said the entire State Department had been anti-Jewish for the last half-century.
On Thursday, Friedman said he regretted his heated language.
“I cannot justify these hurtful words, which I deeply regret,” said Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who has worked for Trump. “I have rejected and I continue to reject the inflammatory comments.”
Friedman, the son of a rabbi, said he was qualified to be ambassador because of his deep knowledge of Israeli history, born of a life of study and more than 50 visits.
He also cited his close friendship with Trump and his fluency in the Hebrew language.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., called on the Trump administration to withdraw the nomination, saying Friedman was “completely unfit” for the job. He also introduced a letter from five former ambassadors to Israel from Republican and Democratic administrations who objected to the nominee.
“We need a steady hand in the Middle East, not a flame thrower,” Udall said.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, ranking Democrat on the committee, said he was especially distraught over Friedman’s characterization of Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate minority leader, as having capitulated to terrorism when he endorsed a historic 2015 deal that blocked Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons.