Israel-envoy pick apologizes for insults, vows to change

Posted: February 17, 2017 at 3:06 a.m.
Updated: February 17, 2017 at 3:06 a.m.

David Friedman (center) talks with Sen. Lindsey Graham as he waits with former Sen. Joe Lieberman to testify Thursday in his Senate confirmation hearing.

WASHINGTON -- The attorney President Donald Trump picked as his ambassador to Israel sought to repair the damage from past attacks on political opponents, telling lawmakers he regretted using inflammatory language and promised to be "respectful and measured" should he be confirmed.

During his confirmation hearing Thursday, David Friedman said he deserved criticism for incendiary comments that targeted former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, liberal Jewish advocacy groups and others. Friedman had called one group, J Street, "worse than kapos" -- a reference to select Jewish prisoners who helped the Nazis supervise fellow Jews in concentration camps during the Holocaust.

"Apology is the first step to atonement," Friedman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "I have profound differences of opinion with J Street. My regret is that I did not express my views respectfully."

The son of an Orthodox rabbi, Friedman has been a fervent supporter of Israeli settlements, an opponent of Palestinian statehood and staunch defender of Israel's government.

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The hearing played out along familiar party lines. Republicans largely sought to play to the Trump nominee's strengths, while Democrats aimed for weak spots. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., vigorously defended Friedman and rejected the notion that he needed to distance himself from passionately held beliefs. Rubio argued the U.S. should be unashamedly pro-Israel, noting that the Jewish state is America's staunchest ally in the volatile Middle East.

But Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., delivered a blistering assessment of Friedman's record, which the senator said is full of insulting comments and extreme views. Friedman labels anyone who disagrees with him, including the entire Obama State Department, as anti-Semitic, Udall said.

Udall referred to a letter from five former American ambassadors to Israel who called Friedman unfit for the post. The former envoys, who served Republican and Democratic presidents, cited examples of Friedman's "extreme, radical positions," such as believing it would not be illegal for Israel to annex the occupied West Bank.

During the hearing, Friedman assured members he would not campaign for such an annexation. He also cautioned against the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. "It makes sense to tread very carefully there," Friedman said, echoing words used by Trump.

The letter opposing Friedman's nomination was signed by Thomas Pickering, William Harrop, Edward Walker, Daniel Kurtzer and James Cunningham.

Friedman said he "absolutely" supports a two-state solution, but said he's skeptical such an approach can succeed because Palestinians haven't renounced terrorism and have refused to accept Israel as a Jewish state. But he said he would be "delighted" if it were possible to reach a two-state agreement.

Protesters interrupted Friedman during his opening remarks. Two men, minutes apart, stood and shouted pro-Palestinian slogans. They each held up Palestinian flags before being removed by the Capitol police.

Information for this article was contributed by Josh Lederman of The Associated Press.

A Section on 02/17/2017