The hearing for American ambassador-designate to Israel David Friedman at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week was intense. The Democratic senators came after him hard, quoting every controversial thing he’s ever said. Mind you, they couldn’t seem to find one controversial thing he’s ever done. Because no one disputes that David is an upstanding, decent man who has had caused little to no controversy. But they called him out on harsh statements he made about those he felt were not sympathetic to Israel.
But of particular note was how harshly he was treated by my friend, Senator Cory Booker, who told David over and over again that although these were just words, words matter.
There is a growing evolution in Cory’s position on Israel which is becoming more aligned with the left wing of the Democratic party. The Democratic party as a whole continues to boast stalwart Israel supporters like Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey. But the Democratic Left is veering away from the Jewish state and becoming harshly critical. I hope Cory resists its pull.
Cory was once a steadfast and friend and reliable supporter of Israel. After he served as my student president at Oxford, I arranged for him to visit Israel as he completed his undergraduate degree. I don’t question Cory’s love for the Jewish state and his commitment to its security. I do however question whether he is allowing himself to succumb to pressure from those on the Left who are gravitating away from the Jewish state.
After years of pledging support to Israel in front of audiences of the American Jewish community who made him the single largest recipient of pro-Israel contributions in the nation, Cory stunned American Jewry by supporting the nuclear agreement with the genocidal Iranian regime. This even while Iran repeatedly threatened a second Holocaust and funded terrorism around the world. Cory is a frequent user of social media. It was therefore mystifying when he failed to post anything from Israel during his visit last summer.
This year he joined with some Democratic colleagues in failing to completely oppose the Senate’s efforts to condemn the UN for passing a one-sided resolution against settlements and the right of the Jewish people to Judaism’s holiest sites in Jerusalem.
Cory’s main complaint to Friedman at the hearing was that inflammatory rhetoric was unacceptable. He said to David that harsh comments about J Street were wrong and that they required “atonement.” David agreed, showed contrition and humility, and apologized.
And yet, during the Iran nuclear negotiations I made it clear to Cory that my main objection to his support of the deal is that he never once condemned Iran for its annihilatory threats against the Jewish state. Cory never once said that Iran’s vile words about Jews were abominable. Here was Khameini, Iran’s supreme leader, repeatedly threatening the Jewish people with a second Holocaust and calling Israel a scab and a cancer that required total destruction. But although Cory called out Friedman for comments he found objectionable, he never once found Iran’s threats against Israel to be objectionable. He never once took to the Senate floor to condemn Iran for violating the 1948 UN Anti-Genocide convention by pledging the destruction of another people.
It is unacceptable for the United States to negotiate with countries who are committed to the annihilation of another. Cory is right – words matter. So where is his condemnation of Iran? Anti-Israel organizations have mounted a campaign to derail Friedman’s nomination because of his belief that Jews have the right to live anywhere in their homeland and that Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital, should be the site of the US embassy. After the hearing last week it became clear, however, that their campaign will fail and David will be confirmed.
But that still doesn’t excuse senators who lambasted Friedman for utterances they found objectionable while giving Iran a pass.
For too long American ambassadors have been forced to toe the line of timid State Department officials whose phobia over Arab reactions to US support for Israel have prevented the US from recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocating the embassy to the city.
For too long our ambassadors have seen the need to publicly criticize the democratically elected government of Israel for protecting the interests of the people of Israel.
And for too long our ambassadors have blamed Israel for the ongoing dispute with the Palestinians rather than acknowledge the obstacle to peace is the Palestinians’ refusal to accept the idea of a Jewish state coexisting next to a Palestinian state.
J Street has every right to their harsh opinions about Israel. But sitting in the comfort of homes 9,000 km.
away may not give them the same perspective as Israelis who face threats of genocide from Hamas to the west, Hezbollah to the north and Iran to the east.
J Street does not believe Jews have a legitimate claim to Judea and Samaria or the right to live in all of their homeland. Furthermore, the group is out of step with Congress and mainstream Jews who support moving the embassy and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Prodded by J Street, Friedman has been challenged about his past support for Jews in the community of Beit El. The world may vilify these families as “settlers,” but they have every right to live in the land of Israel.
The territory may be disputed, however, Jews should not be barred from living there – just as Palestinians are not barred from living in Israel – and Friedman cannot be criticized for making legal contributions to support Jews in that community.
The Palestinians have been offered the possibility of statehood no fewer than seven times going back to 1937 and missed every opportunity because of their refusal to accept the idea that one of the two entities would be a Jewish state.
Democrats have obstinately united in opposition to Trump’s cabinet nominations as is their right. Support for Israel, however, has always been bipartisan because Republicans and Democrats recognize that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, the only reliable US ally in the region, and a nation that shares American values and interests. Former president Barack Obama undermined that bipartisan tradition by his attacks on Israeli policy and its prime minister and by forcing Democrats to choose party loyalty over Israeli security when he demanded their support for the catastrophic nuclear deal he signed with the genocidal regime in Iran.
That’s why staunch Democratic supporters of Israel like Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Robert Menendez of New Jersey had the wisdom to vote against the nuclear deal.
Cory supported the deal. He has that right, but he must show consistency. If you’re going to criticize an ambassador-designate who has, throughout his life, shown passionate support for the security of the Jewish state, then at least condemn the Iran regime that has pledged death both to America and its foremost ally, Israel.
The author, “America’s rabbi,” is the international bestselling author of 30 books including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Facebook @RabbiShmuley.