News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Trump's Pick For Ambassador To Israel Faces Confirmation Hearing


President Trump's pick to become the next ambassador to Israel had a testy confirmation hearing today. Several protesters were pulled out of the room. The nominee, David Friedman, is a bankruptcy lawyer with ties to the settlement movement in the West Bank. In the past, he has criticized liberal Jewish groups, and for that, he had to apologize today. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: David Friedman once described a Jewish advocacy group known as J Street as, quote, "worse than kapos." That's a reference to Jews who helped the Nazis during the Holocaust. And that's not all, says Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.


BEN CARDIN: Reviving Holocaust terms to equate J Street supporters with Nazi collaborators or questioning their commitment and love for Israel, calling the Anti-Defamation League morons, stating that liberal Jews suffer from cognizant disconnect in identifying good and evil.

KELEMEN: Friedman told the senators that he regrets using such language and that he knows the difference between partisan rhetoric and what could be his job as ambassador to Israel.

DAVID FRIEDMAN: There is no excuse. If you want me to rationalize it or justify it, I cannot. These were hurtful words, and I deeply regret them. They're not reflective of my nature or my character.

KELEMEN: Friedman was repeatedly interrupted by protesters, including by these Jewish activists from a group called If Not Now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) We will fill this world with love.

KELEMEN: They say they oppose the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories and called Friedman a racist who funds illegal settlements.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Mr. Friedman also said that Palestinian refugees don't have...

KELEMEN: This protester held a Palestinian flag, shouting - Palestinians will always be in Palestine - before he was escorted out of the hearing room. The confirmation hearing comes a day after President Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and seemed to back off from the idea of a two-state solution - a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel. Friedman says he would be, quote, "delighted" if the two parties could agree on that, but he has doubts.


FRIEDMAN: I have expressed my skepticism about the two-state solution solely on the basis of what I've perceived as an unwillingness on the part of the Palestinians to renounce terror and accept Israel as a Jewish state.

KELEMEN: Five former U.S. ambassadors who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations wrote to senators on the Committee, urging them to reject Friedman. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, brought that up as he called on Trump to withdraw the nominee.


TOM UDALL: If we confirm him, we are running a dangerous risk that Mr. Friedman will inflame a volatile situation and inflame other foreign governments in the region. We need a steady hand in the Middle East, not a bomb thrower in a position of high power and responsibility.

KELEMEN: Friedman did have some strong backers on the committee, including Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced Friedman to the committee, calling him a deal-making lawyer.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: I can't think of a better choice to go to the Mideast than a bankruptcy lawyer, except maybe a divorce lawyer.

KELEMEN: Graham says he has differences with Friedman over settlements, but points out the New York lawyer is close to Trump. And if confirmed, he would be Trump's voice in Israel. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE OLYMPIANS SONG, "SATURN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.