By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed President Donald Trump‘s candidate for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, an outspoken bankruptcy lawyer aligned with the Israeli right on Thursday.
The vote went from 52 to 46, almost exclusively by party. Only two Democrats, Senators Robert Menendez and Joe Manchin, joined Trump’s fellow Republicans in backing Friedman.
That amount of opposition is highly unusual for a candidate for US ambassador to Israel, a close ally of the United States. For decades, the nominees of the Democratic and Republican presidents have been approved without objection, by unanimous consent or votes by voice.
Friedman, who has no diplomatic experience, is an old friend of Trump who worked for the former Republican businessman from New York as a bankruptcy attorney.
In addition to investing in settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians, Friedman favors moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Many American allies strongly oppose the relocation because both Israel and the Palestinians claim the city as their capital.
Friedman is also known for using inflammatory language against those with whom he has political disagreements, such as describing former President Barack Obama as anti-Semitic. Democrats said their approach could put security at risk in a volatile region.
“Our ambassador should not be the type of person who uses language to fuel violence, hatred, instability,” Democratic Senator Brian Schatz said in the Senate before the final confirmation vote.
Trump’s selection of Friedman reflects his policy shift toward Israel after years of friction between Obama and Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Unlike Obama, Trump has wavered in America’s commitment to a two-state solution, long one of the foundations of Washington’s Middle East policy, and has backed the relocation of the embassy.
When Friedman was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also largely in line with the party, Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the panel, praised him as a “passionate defender” of strong ties between the United States and Israel. .
“He understands the complexity of the issues at stake for the United States and the need to support a democratic ally in an important and unstable part of the world,” Corker said.
Thursday’s vote meant that Trump will have an ambassador on site in time for next week’s annual conference in Washington of the powerful pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC.
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