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Published on March 13th, 2017 | by Naomi Dann

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Friedman Vote: Will Democrats Stand up to Israel’s Settlements?

by Naomi Dann

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) voted 12 to 9 to approve President Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. While Friedman is likely to be confirmed by the full Senate as early as this week, the near party line split in committee and the pledges to oppose his nomination are signs of the growing willingness of Members of Congress to listen to the growing opposition among their base to Israel’s ongoing settlement construction and denial of Palestinian rights.

Progressive advocacy groups across the full political range of the anti-occupation camp have been vocal in opposition to Friedman’s nomination. JStreet, which bills itself as pro-Israel, pro-peace led a coalition of liberal Zionist groups in gathering 40,000 signatures and making calls to senators. Palestinian rights advocates such as Jewish Voice for Peace, US Campaign, and Code Pink, also gathered a combined 40,000 petition signatures opposing Friedman. The moderate Union for Reform Judaism came out against a nominee for ambassador to Israel for the first time ever. As Friends Committee on National Legislation advocate Kate Gould writes, “the narrow margin of the vote reflects the growing grassroots mobilization to the pro-settlement, pro-occupation policies that Mr. Friedman has promoted.” This opposition has been unprecedented for an ambassadorial appointment, especially one to Israel.

And for good reason. It would have been hard for Trump to find someone with more extreme positions. Friedman’s record demonstrates that his positions are to the right of even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Friedman is a longtime supporter and fundraiser for one of the most extreme and violent ideological settlements in the West Bank, has denigrated liberal Jews who oppose Israel’s nearly 50 year military occupation by comparing them to Nazi collaborators, and has supported the idea of annexing the West Bank (without giving Palestinian inhabitants full equal rights).

Friedman is not the only Israel adviser in Trump’s circle with ties to the settlements. Another former Trump lawyer and now senior adviser, Jason Greenblatt, travels to Israel this week to discuss settlement expansion. By his own admission, the only time Greenblatt has interacted with Palestinians was as an armed guard when he was studying at a yeshiva in a West Bank settlement back in 1989. Greenblatt is expected to discuss settlements with Israeli officials, in an effort to come to some agreement that will likely allow continued construction with some minimal restrictions.

The Trump administration has confused many observers with statements on settlement policy that appear to swing back and forth between complete encouragement and a veneer of restraint. Since Trump’s inauguration the Israeli government has sped ahead with settlement construction, announcing the first ever new settlement, and the construction of thousands of new units. The calls for annexing the West Bank in the Israeli Knesset are growing louder. But when Netanyahu visited the US in February, Trump asked him to “slow down,” a gentle chastisement accompanied by a wink. One explanation for the seeming incongruity between the support for settlements indicated by Trump’s choice of Israel advisers and a few recent statements calling for moderation requires an understanding of Israel’s domestic politics. At home, Netanyahu is under strong pressure from the right wing of his governing coalition and needs restraint from the U.S. as a foil to maintain power.

In a statement published just a few days before the election, Friedman and Greenblatt laid out their policy positions. They reject the fact that Israel is an occupying power and oppose a Palestinian state. They support the incendiary move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. And they encourage aid to Israel above the $3.8 billion dollars per year already allocated by the new memorandum of understanding signed by during the Obama administration.

Recent polls demonstrate a strong and growing opposition to these positions, particularly within key constituencies in the Democratic Party. A January 2017 Pew Survey found that the partisan divide in support for Israel is the widest it’s been since 1978, and, for the first time, Democrats are now about equally split between sympathizing more with Israel (33 percent) and with Palestinians (31 percent). A December 2016 Brookings Institution poll found that 60% of Democrats now support imposing economic sanctions or more serious action against the settlements. It’s been clear for a while that the Democratic Party base opposes Israel’s occupation and wants to see a peace settlement that fulfills the needs of both peoples, but Democratic Party leaders and elected officials have been slow to catch up. The fight over the Israel plank of the party platform was one illustration of this divide within the party between those willing to speak out for full equal rights for Palestinians and those in the party who are still holding on to pro-Israel orthodoxies.

The fight over David Friedman’s nomination has been an opportunity to test the parameters of that divide and the willingness of Democratic leaders to speak out under significant pressure from the grassroots. Senator Ben Cardin’s (D-MD) vote against Friedman is a significant turning point. Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the committee has close ties to the Israel advocates and a hawkish record on support for Israel, including sponsoring a recent bill opposing the UN condemnation of Israel’s illegal settlements. In the days before Cardin announced he would vote no on Friedman’s nomination, citing the partisan divide with concern, his office received over 300 phone calls from Jewish Voice for Peace members urging him to vote no.

When the Friedman nomination goes to a full Senate vote, he will likely face opposition from at least the nine senators who voted against him in committee, as well as from Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) who have already expressed their intention to oppose him and several others who have expressed concern over Friedman, including Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The only Democrat on the SFRC who voted for Friedman was Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who has close ties to AIPAC. One vote to watch will be Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) who has been under significant pressure, including a letter from 120 Jewish academics urging him to vote no.

The significant opposition to David Friedman’s nomination from a broad spectrum of civil society, current and former officials, editorial boards, and liberal Jewish institutions is an encouraging sign that the American public is increasingly ready to stand up against permissive U.S. policy that allows Israel to continue its settlement construction and violations of Palestinian rights with impunity. The Senate vote to confirm Friedman will be a gauge of how willing elected officials are to do the same.

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6 Responses to Friedman Vote: Will Democrats Stand up to Israel’s Settlements?

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  1. avatar delia ruhe says:

    So, will Democrats stand up to Israel’s settlements? Maybe when hell freezes over. The best Dems have done over the last three decades is pay lipservice to peace and support for a two-state solution, knowing full well that periodically turning on the peace processor is exactly what the Israel government wants because a failed process (failure engineered by Israel) works so well to renew the claim that “Israel has no partner for peace.”

    The Dems will do whatever Israel demands of Congress.

  2. avatar jeff866 says:

    Give me one good reason why America should accommodate any demands of the Muslim Arabs in the West Bank? Maybe it is time to stop being a hypocrite. Americans would never put up with it if 10 million Mexicans and Mexican Americans started a 60 year campaign of terrorism to “recapture” the New Mexico and Arizona. I also very much doubt many Americans would want to live in a Muslim state.

    Why should politicians block the man Trump wants to be his ambassador? That is not going to change Trump’s policy.

    As for Delia Ruhe, great words but can you deliver the Palestinians as a peaceful rational people who are willing to live in peace side by side Israel? If so, maybe you should run for Chairman of the PLO/PA.

  3. avatar John O says:

    Hi jeff886. You sound very like Jeffrey Wilens, who used to sneer at anyone on here who used an alias. Are you by any chance related?

  4. avatar jeff866 says:

    John O, LOL. I am the same jeffrey wilens. For some reason, this blog signed me out and when I tried to sign back in using my same email address it assigned me jeff866. Perhaps the manager of this blog can fix it or tell me how to return to the old one.

    You are correct, I do sneer at anonymous posters.


About the Author

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Naomi Dann is the media coordinator at Jewish Voice for Peace, and a writer focusing on US/Israel relations, the American Jewish community and the movement for Palestinian rights. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including The Hill, The International Business Times, The Jewish Daily Forward, +972 Magazine, and Tikkun Magazine. She holds a BA in Peace and Justice Studies from Vassar College.



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