Letters from rabbis, Holocaust survivors, scholars decry use of ‘kapo’ by Trump nominee

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Letters to the Senate from hundreds of rabbis, and dozens of Holocaust survivors and scholars say the abuse of the term “kapo” by President Donald Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel should be a factor in considering his confirmation.

An array of liberal Jewish groups organized three separate letters this week to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: One from rabbis and cantors, one from Holocaust survivors, and one from Holocaust scholars. The letters will be delivered to senators on the committee before Friedman’s confirmation hearing commences on Thursday.

The letter from the rabbis and the cantors, which so far has accrued more than 600 signatures from clergy of all streams, and the letter from 31 Holocaust survivors urge the committee to reject Friedman.

The letter from 29 Holocaust scholars – including a handful not based in the United States – stops short of a call to reject him, but says: “We hope that you will keep Mr. Friedman’s disrespectful and politically cynical use of the Holocaust in mind as you consider his nomination to serve as our ambassador to Israel.”

Each of the letters focuses principally on Friedman’s use of the term “kapo” to attack J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle Eastern policy group.


“The historical record shows that kapos were Jews whom the Nazis forced, at pain of death, to serve them in the concentration and extermination camps,” says the letter from the Holocaust scholars.

“These Jews faced terrible dilemmas, but ultimately were made into unwilling tools of Nazi brutality,” the letter continues. “To brand one’s political opponents, members of one’s own community, as kapos, merely for engaging in legitimate debate, is historically indefensible and is a deeply disturbing example of the abuse of the Holocaust and its victims for present political gain.”

The survivors call Friedman’s use of the term “slanderous, insulting, irresponsible, cynical and immensely damaging to our people.” The rabbis call it the “very antithesis of the diplomatic behavior Americans expect from their ambassadors.”

The rabbis also focus on Friedman’s long association with the settlement movement, including major donations. “We are very concerned that rather than try to represent the U.S. as an advocate for peace, Mr. Friedman will seek to mold American policy in line with his extreme ideology,” their letter says.

Friedman is a longtime friend and lawyer to Trump.

Organizing the push to persuade the Senate to block his confirmation are J Street, Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, the National Council of Jewish Women, the New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel and T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights group.

Partners for Progressive Israel, a group affiliated with leftist Zionist parties in Israel, on Monday urged its activists to call senators and voice their opposition to Friedman.