Normally, the appointment of next U.S. ambassador to Israel should be a moment of unity for the pro-Israel community. Not so with David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s pick to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Hundreds of rabbis and other Jewish clergy around the nation — I am among them — are calling on their senators to vote against his confirmation, an unprecedented act. Indeed, as a rabbi, I must be exceedingly cautious about airing my political views publicly. But when I examined who Friedman is, what he represents, how he behaves and what he has said, it became clear I needed to speak out.
The case against Friedman does not rest on his total lack of diplomatic, foreign policy or national security experience — though these are matters of concern. My discomfort with him primarily stems from two issues.
The first is that Friedman has adhered to and worked for an extreme agenda in Israel that is at odds with decades of bipartisan U.S. policy and the majority of American Jews. He opposes a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians would live at peace side-by-side, each in their own country.
Of course, we should not reject ambassador picks simply because we disagree with them. But Friedman would bring so much political baggage to the post that his case merits special attention.
Friedman has written that the two-state solution is a “ scam” and an “ illusory solution to a non-existent problem.” Instead, he backs and has raised millions of dollars for Israeli settlements opposed by the United States since 1967. This is not just a matter of policy for Friedman, who is the president of American Friends of Bet-El Yeshiva, an organization that raises money for an Israeli settlement deep in the West Bank.
Even more egregiously, Friedman has used extreme, hateful and intolerant language toward fellow Jews and fellow Americans who do not share his views on Israel. Specifically, he has referred to supporters of a two-state solution and opponents of West Bank settlements as “ worse than kapos” — a historical term referring to Jews who were forced during World War II to do the bidding of the Nazis in concentration camps. It is hard to imagine a more hurtful, wounding and outrageous comment. It betrays an intolerance and recklessness unbecoming of anyone in public life.
Friedman’s ire didn’t stop there. He has described the U.S. State Department as “ full of anti-Semites” and called the Anti-Defamation League “ morons.” In doing so, he has shown he is completely at odds with the overwhelming majority of American Jews and pro-Israel Americans.
These attacks are in contravention of Jewish values. Our tradition is deeply sensitive to hateful speech, considered an egregious transgression of Jewish law. As a rabbi, I am deeply disturbed by the notion that we could have an ambassador to the Jewish state who has such an extensive track record of demonizing his fellow Americans and Jews.
Friedman has expressed no remorse or regret. Instead, he has doubled down, repeating the vile and false charge. Beyond my ethical concerns, this is simply not the behavior of a potential ambassador — someone who must be sober, steady and disciplined in his or her work. This is all the more true in a region as tumultuous as the Middle East.
What will happen when Friedman’s conversations and decisions carry life or death implications for residents of the Middle East? He already has shown himself likely to exacerbate tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territory. The stakes are simply too high to allow Friedman’s nomination to go forward.
For these reasons, I am joining the thousands of spiritual, political and intellectual leaders in the American Jewish community in urging Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to vote against this nomination.
Darah Lerner is the rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Bangor.