Senate panel approves Trump’s Israel envoy in near party-line vote

Ron Kampeas

David Friedman

David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel, concludes testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Feb. 16, 2017. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — In a narrow vote, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel.

The committee voted Thursday 12-9 to confirm David Friedman, mostly along party lines. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. , was the only Democrat to vote in favor. The vote now goes to the full Senate.

Aside from Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the only speakers at the meeting were Democrats who opposed Friedman’s nomination. They cited many of the concerns raised by liberal Jewish groups opposed to Friedman, including his past skepticism of the two-state solution and his deep philanthropic investment in the settlement movement.

Most prominently mentioned was Friedman’s past insults of Jews with whom he doesn’t agree. Friedman had called J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, “worse than kapos,” the Jewish Nazi collaborators. J Street, during its annual conference last month, delivered the committee 40,000 signatures on a petition opposing Friedman.

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“The last thing we need in this position is somebody who has a penchant for over the top hyperbolic and even false statements,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the lead Democrat on the committee, who is Jewish and is among the closest Democrats to the pro-Israel lobby, said Friedman’s appointment would undercut efforts to maintain a unified, bipartisan pro-Israel posture in Congress.

“There are those who are trying to divide us and make Israel a partisan political issue,” Cardin said. “I don’t believe that Mr. Friedman can be that unifying person.”

Corker, perhaps the most skeptical Republican during Friedman’s confirmation hearing earlier this year, said Friedman’s closeness to Trump – he has been his lawyer for over a decade – helped qualify him for the position.

“Mr. Friedman is an impassioned advocate for America and for strengthening the mutually beneficial bond between the United States and Israel,” Corker said. “The president needs an ambassador who shares his vision and confidence.”

There was a brief disruption of the voting session by the left-wing group Code Pink.

Groups opposing Friedman included the Reform movement, J Street, Americans for Peace Now and other left-wing groups. Groups backing him included the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America.

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