Senate panel backs Trump’s candidate for ambassador to Israel

© Reuters. David Friedman testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination to be the United States Ambassador to Israel, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted Thursday 12-9 to approve President Donald Trump‘s nominee for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, an outspoken bankruptcy lawyer aligned with the Israeli right.

The vote was largely along party lines, in contrast to strong bipartisan support for previous ambassadors to Israel. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez joined the committee’s 11 Republicans in backing Friedman, despite concerns about his temperament.

Friedman, who has no diplomatic experience, is an old friend of Trump who worked for the New York businessman as a bankruptcy attorney.

In addition to investing in settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians, Friedman favors moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Many American allies strongly oppose the relocation because both Israel and the Palestinians claim the city as their capital.

Trump’s selection of Friedman reflects his policy shift toward Israel after years of friction between former President Barack 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.

Friedman is also known for using inflammatory language against those with whom he has political disagreements. Democrats said their approach could put security at risk.

‘HYPERBOLIC’

“The region is incredibly volatile. The last thing we need in this position is someone with a penchant for exaggerated, hyperbolic and even false statements,” said Democratic Senator Tim Kaine.

Friedman has called Obama anti-Semitic and dismissed the liberal-leaning pro-Israel group J Street as “much worse than the kapos,” a reference to Jews who worked for the Nazis in World War II concentration camps.

J Street and the Jewish Reform Movement are among the groups opposed to Friedman’s nomination.

Friedman was interrupted during his controversial confirmation hearing in February. Then he said he regretted the use of that language.

Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s highest-ranking Democrat, said Friedman was also problematic because he does not explicitly endorse a two-state solution for Middle East peace.

Friedman will next be considered by the full Senate, where Trump’s fellow Republicans control a small majority. It is expected to be confirmed despite continued Democratic opposition.

Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, praised Friedman 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.

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