As rabbis and community leaders in Arizona, we are grateful for Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake’s unflagging support of Israel. In that spirit and with Israel’s best interests in mind, we respectfully ask Sens. McCain and Flake to vote against the nomination of David Friedman as United States ambassador to Israel. For the following reasons, we see Friedman as incapable as serving as an effective bridge between the two nations.
To begin with, we take great umbrage at Friedman’s denigration of American Jews who disagree with his policy positions. The Rabbis of the Talmud are adamant that we are to speak to and about other people– particularly those with whom we disagree – with love and respect. Yet Friedman seems to have no qualms about vilifying people who do not share his views.
Friedman has repeatedly compared members of the Jewish community whose views on Israel differ from his own to “kapos,” Jews who collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust. He called members of J Street, a pro-Israel organization that wants to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians, “worse than kapos.” He has even questioned whether J Street’s more than 180,000 supporters are really Jews – as if he has the right to decide such a weighty matter.
This is the very antithesis of the diplomatic behavior Americans expect from their ambassadors, who are charged with representing our entire nation. The late and questionable apologies that Friedman offered at his Senate hearing do not undo the force of his longstanding and repeated statements.
The situation in and around Israel is volatile. Friedman’s inflammatory comments about Jews, Palestinians and Muslims and the peace process itself are precisely the type of comments that can ignite further conflict and drive deeper wedges between parties. In addition to our concerns about Friedman’s rhetoric and temperament, we have grave policy concerns as well. Friedman has vocally supported the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which American presidents since Lyndon B. Johnson have seen as an obstacle to peace.
Moreover, he has frequently opposed and denigrated the two-state solution, which has been a policy cornerstone of Republican and Democratic administrations for the past quarter century. We are concerned that rather than try to represent the U.S. as an advocate for peace, Friedman will seek to mold American policy in line with his extreme ideology.
At his confirmation hearing, Friedman attempted to recant many of his past statements and attacks, though he mostly stopped short of offering full apologies. He also claimed that he would uphold US policy, including support for a two-state solution if the Trump administration chooses to pursue it. Yet two hours of contrition was not nearly enough to convince us that the nominee will abandon a lifetime of harsh attacks, irresponsible behavior and core beliefs.
It is natural and understandable that Friedman would say much of what he believes that senators want and need to hear from him. But his long record of personal and ideological commitment to a far-right agenda makes clear that he is still not suited to serve in this position.
We yearn for an Israel that is secure, democratic and the national homeland of the Jewish people. Friedman’s pro-settler positions and opposition to the two-state solution are in conflict with that goal and with the views of the majority of American Jews who see settlement expansion as an obstacle to peace and who strongly support a two-state solution. Friedman’s favored policies would weaken Israel’s security, democracy, and status as the national homeland of the Jewish people.
Friedman’s apparent inability to speak respectfully about and to people with whom he disagrees, and his advocacy of extreme policies that threaten the future of Israel and run contrary to American interests, are both sufficient reasons to disqualify Friedman’s nomination. He is the wrong choice to serve as our nation’s ambassador to Israel.
Rabbi Jason Bonder, Rabbi B. Charles Herring, Rabbi Elana Kanter, Rabbi John Linder, Rabbi Nina Perlmutter, Rabbi Dean Shapiro, Rabbi Jack Silver and Rabbi Michael Wasserman