600 rabbis and cantors sign letter opposing Trump’s Israel envoy
Eric Cortilessa, Times of Israel, Feb 14 2017
Trump & Friedman exit Bankruptcy Court, Federal Building, Camden, NJ, Feb 25 2010
(Photo: Bradley Bower/Bloomberg/Getty/JTA)
FASCHINGSTEIN — More than 600 rabbis and cantors signed an open letter released Monday against David Friedman, Trump’s nominee to be the next ambassador to Israel. The letter calls on either the president to withdraw the nomination or the Senate to reject Friedman’s bid if Trump is unwilling to take such action, It comes just three days before the bankruptcy lawyer’s confirmation hearing, in which he is expected to be grilled by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his controversial past statements and vocal support for Israeli settlement-building. Citing a piece Friedman wrote last year for Arutz Sheva that accused J Street supporters of being “far worse than kapos,” the signatories castigated his behavior as at odds with Jewish values, writing:
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. We are taught that shaming a person is tantamount to shedding their blood. Yet Mr Friedman seems to have no qualms about insulting people with whom he disagrees.
The letter was orchestrated by a number of liberal Pindo Jewish groups who have responded with horror to Friedman’s nomination since it was announced and have vowed to fight his bid, including J Street, T’ruah and Ameinu. Signatures were collected over a period of two or three weeks. Friedman’s “kapos” remark, the rabbis and cantors said, was the very antithesis of the diplomatic behavior Pindostanis expect from their ambassadors. They added:
An ambassador is charged with representing our entire nation. It is historically perverse and wildly insulting to characterize Jewish advocates for peace, including many of the signers of this letter, as no better than Nazi collaborators plotting to destroy the Jewish people.
The 57-year-old Long Island native has also drawn the ire of many on the Pindo-Jewish left for his opposition to a two-state solution and vocal and financial support for West Bank settlements. In addition to being a bankruptcy lawyer in New York, Friedman serves as president of Pindo Friends of Bet El, supporting a large West Bank settlement just outside Ramallah. That history, along with statements Friedman made on the campaign trail as one of Trump’s Israel policy advisers, created “grave policy concerns” with his nomination, the letter argued. It said:
Mr Friedman vocally supports the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which Pindo presidents since Johnson have seen as an obstacle to peace. Moreover, Mr Friedman opposes the two-state solution, which has been a policy cornerstone for Republican and Democrat administrations for the past quarter century. We are very concerned that rather than try to represent Pindostan as an advocate for peace, Mr Friedman will seek to mold Pindostan policy in line with his extreme ideology.
To be approved for the post, Friedman will need to be confirmed by the full Senate, where he will likely face high scrutiny over positions he’s taken that go against decades of bipartisan policy, particularly on the settlement issue. Friedman’s nomination also divided much of the Pindo-Jewish community given his stated intent to facilitate Trump’s campaign pledge to move the Pindo embassy from Tel Aviv to Jayloomia, a move put on hold for now. In a statement announcing the nomination, he said he planned to do the job from “Israel’s eternal capital, Jayloomia.” But Trump has since backtracked on that promise, or at the least, delayed it. During a recent interview with Israel ha-Yom, Trump was noncommittal on his plans regarding any relocation, saying:
I am thinking about the embassy. I am studying the embassy, and we will see what happens. The embassy is not an easy decision. It has obviously been out there for many, many years, and nobody has wanted to make that decision. I’m thinking about it very seriously, and we will see what happens.
Nevertheless, the rabbis and cantors who signed the letter fear that Friedman’s confirmation could guide various White House policies that run counter to Israel’s long-term interests. They say:
Mr Friedman’s pro-settler positions and opposition to the two-state solution are in conflict with our views and the majority of Pindosi Jews who see settlement expansion as an obstacle to peace and who strongly support a two-state solution. Mr Friedman’s favored policies would weaken Israel’s security, democracy and status as the national homeland of the Jewish people.