ZOA Criticizes Left Wing Reform Jewish Movement’s Inappropriate Hostility to Nominee David Friedman
News Press Release
February 22, 2017

Zionist Organization of America President Morton A. Klein released the following statement:

Love and A Close Relationship to the President Are Good:  The left wing Reform Jewish Movement’s February 17, 2017 statement on the nomination of David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel starts by acknowledging that “there can be no doubt that David Friedman loves Israel [and] has an extraordinarily close relationship with President Trump.”   Strangely, however, the Reform leaders’ statement then says “but those are not the essential qualifications of a U.S. Ambassador to Israel.”   

Surely, love for Israel is a critical qualification for an ambassador to our closest and most loyal ally in the Middle East.  An ambassador who loves Israel is far better than an indifferent or hostile-to-Israel ambassador who harms the U.S.-Israel relationship.  Unfortunately, many of our past U.S. ambassadors to Israel fall into the latter category, and this has not been beneficial to U.S.-Israeli relations.  (See Five Fmr. U.S. Amb. to Israel Who Criticized Nominee Friedman Are Hostile to Israel Are Biased – Not Credible: They Previously Harmed US-Israel Relations, Undiplomatically, Feb. 17, 2017.)

Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman: Friedman has extraordinary skills that will serve him well as Amb., great intelligence, warm personality that engages, engenders trust, knows how to compromise and negotiate.

A close relationship with the President is also an important qualification – since the President must have absolute confidence in and trust in any Ambassadors’ reports to him and trusts in the Ambassador’s carrying out the Presidents wishes. 

Mr. Friedman Has The Needed Professional and Diplomacy Skills:  The Reform Movement’s disparagement of Mr. Friedman’s “basic qualifications” and foreign policy experience are also wrong.  Mr. Friedman is one of the top five bankruptcy attorneys in the country, renowned for his skillful handling of highly contentious disputes, and is a co-founder and name partner of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP, an eminent national law firm with approximately 350 attorneys.  One does not achieve all this without great intelligence and top-notch diplomatic skills. 

Indeed, former Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman, who spent the past four years after leaving the Senate working as senior counsel at Mr. Friedman’s law firm, highly recommended Mr. Friedman for confirmation after spending those four years working closely with and observing Mr. Friedman’s superb professional and personal qualities.  Senator Lieberman stated while introducing Mr. Friedman at his Senate confirmation hearing last Thursday (February 16): 

He [David Friedman] has extraordinarily professional skills that will serve him well as ambassador. . .  Really great intelligence, a warm personality that engages and engenders trust.  And an impressive ability to advocate a cause, but also to know when to compromise and negotiate so that all parties can walk away from a dispute feeling that they’ve accomplished something.  Now that I’ve said that, I may want to suggest that Congress retain David for mediating purposes. . . .” 

Mr. Friedman Has The Language Skills and Knowledge to Succeed As Our Ambassador:  In addition to his superb legal and diplomacy skills, Mr. Friedman is clearly knowledgeable about Israel (having visited Israel 50 times or more), speaks fluent Hebrew, and has done business in and is familiar with the business climate and issues in Israel and Judea/Samaria (a/k/a the West Bank).  Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns explained that knowledge of the country, language and business familiarity are required skills to be successful in the job.  Ambassador Burns also stated that the questions we should ask when choosing an ambassador include: “Do they have some experience in the country?  Do they speak the language of the country?  Have they done business in that country?”  (“Recent Confirmation Hearings Raise Eyebrows At Ambassador Nomination Criteria,” PBS News Hour, Feb. 17, 2014.).)

With someone as clearly knowledgeable as Mr. Friedman (as was apparent throughout his confirmation hearing), we will avoid the controversies raised by a recent unknowledgeable crop of nominees – such as a 2014 nominee for ambassador to Norway who did not know that Norway has no president, and misidentified a coalition partner in the Norwegian government as “some fringe element” spewing hatred that the Norwegian government had denounced; a 2014 nominee for ambassador to Hungary who couldn’t answer what America’s strategic interests in Hungary were; and a 2014 nominee for ambassador to Argentina who had never been to Argentina.  ( Id.; Also see “State Dept. Will Post Ambassador Qualifications Online,” by Aamer Madhani , USA Today, April 4, 2014.) 

Mr. Friedman Will Properly Fulfill His Role As The President’s and Country’s Representative Without Regard to His Personal Views: In addition, the Reform Movement’s accusation that Mr. Friedman has been a “zealous advocate” of views that the Reform Movement disagrees with, ignores the actual role of an ambassador.  Mr. Friedman pledged to undertake that representative role during the following exchange with Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at Mr. Friedman’s confirmation hearing:

Senator Rubio: “As an ambassador, at the end of the day, your role will be to represent, advocate for, and implement the policy of the President.  Is that correct?

Mr. Friedman: “100% correct.”

Senator Rubio: “So on any issue, whether it’s the location of the embassy, whether it’s our position on any given matter, it is your job to be an advocate for the decisions made in the oval office, and by this administration, and not your personal views?

Mr. Friedman: “I will be an advocate in the same way that I would be an advocate for a client.  My personal views are completely subordinated to the view of the President and the Secretary of State.”

Later in the confirmation hearing, when Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) asked whether embassy personnel will need to agree with Mr. Friedman’s views, Mr. Friedman again confirmed that his role is as a representative of the president and not as a policy-maker, saying: “Because I am not making any policy, I am simply serving the directions of the president, whether people agree with me or not within the embassy is irrelevant.”

Mr. Friedman moreover pledged to represent the entire country.  When Senator Menendez (D-NJ) asked “Who’s Your client if you achieve confirmation of your position?,” Mr. Friedman responded:  “I would pledge to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.  And I interpret that as having in the broadest sense an obligation to the entire country.”

And Mr. Friedman also pledged to reduce partisanship on the issue of Israel.

Mr. Friedman’s Philanthropic Activity in Bet-El, Judea Consisted of Supporting Education:  The Reform Movement statement also misleadingly claimed that Mr. Friedman is a “financial supporter of settlement activity.”  Mr. Friedman has only contributed to an educational institution.  During questioning by Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Mr. Friedman explained: “My affiliation with Bet-El is as the President of the American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva Center.  We support a Talmudic Academy and a boys’ high school and a girls’ high school.  And it primarily derives from my commitment to Jewish education.  The quality of those schools are excellent.  Everything that we’ve given money to has been in the nature of gymnasiums, dormitories, dining rooms, classrooms, things like that.  So my philanthropic activity there has not been connected to their political activity, which I really had no part in.” 

Mr. Friedman’s Views Are Not “Extreme”:  Ignoring the irrelevance of Mr. Friedman’s personal views in light of his pledge to abide by his representative role, the Reform Movement statement also falsely accused Mr. Friedman of having “extreme views on key issues related to the two-state solution, Israel’s borders, settlements, and the location of the U.S. Embassy.”  There is nothing “extreme” about Mr. Friedman’s views on such issues.  Over 90% of Congress voted to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and Americans overwhelmingly support moving the embassy, by a 4 to 1 margin.  Americans widely acknowledge, by a 3.5 to 1 margin, that a Palestinian-Arab state would support terrorism, would be hostile to Israel, and would not be peaceful.  Americans believe that Jews should have the right to live in Judea/Samaria by a 3 to 1 margin.  (For detailed poll findings, etc., see U.S. Amb. to Israel Nominee David Friedman Represents American (including Jewish-American) Views and Values,” Dec. 20, 2016. 

Moreover, Mr. Friedman stated during his confirmation hearing that a two-state solution (with Israeli security control of borders) is “ideal” although it is unachievable at the present time.  Mr. Friedman also stated during the hearing that he did not personally support annexation of Judea and Samaria unless it were part of a negotiated agreement.  During questioning by Senator Markey, Mr. Friedman also stated that he would support Israel giving Bet-El to the Palestinian-Arabs “in the context of consensual, fully-agreed-to two-state solution.”  (Bet-El is the site where Jacob had his famous dream and the Maccabees’ had their base in the Judean hills.)   If anything, these statements by Mr. Friedman seem to be to the left of the views overwhelmingly held by the American public that a Palestinian-Arab state would be hostile, support terrorism and not peaceful.   Thus, it is rather absurd that the left wing Reform Movement is labeling Mr. Friedman’s views as “extreme.”

Mr. Friedman’s Apologized for his Inflammatory Remarks and Was Forgiven:  The Reform Movement also complained about Mr. Friedman’s prior “kapos” and “morons” statements, while ignoring the fact that these were made as a private citizen in the heat of a political campaign, and were said in response to some pretty extreme actions by the groups that they were directed to (such as the ADL’s false accusations of anti-Semitism against then-candidate Trump).  Moreover, Mr. Friedman humbly and sincerely apologized prior to his confirmation hearing and was forgiven by the ADL and Senator Franken.  The ADL tweeted that it “accepts David Friedman’s apology and appreciates his outreach” and is “prepared to work with him to advance our shared interests, particularly insuring the strength of the bilateral relationship, defending the state of Israel from terror and other threats and advancing an agenda of peace in the region.”   The Reform Movement should likewise issue a statement that it is prepared to work with Mr. Friedman on shared interests.

Mr. Friedman also sincerely reiterated his apologies and regrets during the hearing.  ADL moreover tweeted that it looks forward to working with Mr Friedman. 

Mr. Friedman clearly demonstrated that he has the measured temperament to serve as a diplomat during his decades of work as an attorney on delicate, highly contentious cases, and at his confirmation hearing, where Mr. Friedman remained thoughtful and calm throughout very challenging questioning.

Perhaps the best response to the Reform Movement’s statement is embodied in Senator Marco Rubio’s statement during Mr. Friedman’s confirmation hearing:

Senator Rubio:  “Thank you Mr. Friedman for being here, for your willingness to serve.  Let me begin by saying that I find this whole process to be unreal.  This sort of ordeal you’re being put through to account for all these words, in particular given some of the groups that are ratcheting all this up.  This group J Street that, for example, a few years ago, invited the chief Palestinian negotiator Erekat to address their conference, a person who has justified the murder of Jews as self-defense, is a person they invited to speak at their conference.  This is a group who has routinely attacked people that hold my views, with content that I find to be a smear and quite frankly a mischaracterization of our positions.”  

There is also this misconception that continues to be spread around in the letters, and all this whole dialogue that surrounds this, that you somehow have issued a wholesale rejection of the so-called 2-state solution.   I think you have already testified here today, and you have said before, and others have said as well, that in a perfect and ideal world, you would have two independent states, a Jewish state, and a Palestinian state, peacefully side by side living with one another.”

The problem is there are significant impediments to that, perhaps the least of which is the existence of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.  

And I think it is accurate to say that your position is not that you are imposed to this ideal outcome in which there are two states, but that you recognize that at this moment, given the circumstances that exist in the world today and in that region in particular, it is not likely to have that outcome.  And hopefully that will change.  Hopefully the Palestinians will have better leadership.  Hopefully they’ll be more prosperous.  Hopefully they will have an opportunity to grow their economy and their security.  And maybe in 20 years, 15 years, 5 years, sooner rather than later, we all hope there will be the opportunity for this to occur. But right now, those conditions are perhaps not in place.  And the worst thing that we can try to do is to go in there and impose upon our most loyal and important ally in the region, a deal that is bad for their security and bad for their future.  Is that an accurate characterization of your feelings with respect to the 2-state solution?”

Mr. Friedman:I think it is, Senator.”

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