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17:00, 22 May 2018 Tuesday
07:57, 17 February 2017 Friday

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Trump's Israel envoy pick takes flak for rhetoric
Trump's Israel envoy pick takes flak for rhetoric

Friedman has 'regret' for hard-line pro-Israel comments

World Bulletin / News Desk

 President Donald Trump's pick to lead U.S. foreign policy in Israel came under stern criticism from senators who challenged him Thursday on a history of controversial statements. 

During a rocky Senate committee confirmation hearing, David Friedman faced lawmakers who took issue with a variety of hard-line pro-Israel statements he has made in the past.

The son of an Orthodox rabbi, Friedman has a long record of being a firebrand for Israel, including calling liberal Jews "kapos". That term, replete with invective, is used to described imprisoned Jews who assisted Nazi Germany in concentration camps. 

He also accused former President Barack Obama, his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the entire State Department of anti-semitism. 

During his testimony, Friedman walked back many of his statements. 

"While I maintain profound differences of opinion with some of my critics, I regret the use of such language," said Friedman, a trained lawyer. 

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the left-leaning pro-Israel J Street organization, and a past target of Friedman's heated rhetoric, was less than enthusiastic with Friedman's retractions. 

"Not enuf to simply express regret. Cruel, mean-spirited," he wrote on Twitter after an emotional exchange between Friedman and Sen. Cory Booker. 

During a separate showdown, Sen. Tom Udall said the U.S. needs "a steady hand in the Middle East, not a bomb thrower in a position of high power and responsibility".

The confrontations come as five of Washington's former envoys to Tel Aviv sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calling Friedman "unqualified" to assume the ambassadorship due to his "“extreme, radical positions". 

The letter, co-signed by ambassadors Thomas Pickering, William Harrop, Edward Walker, Daniel Kurtzer and James Cunningham included envoys that served under Democratic and Republican administrations. 

Beyond words, Friedman has been a vocal financial backer of Israel's Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the ambassadors pointed to that fact, and remarks in which he said he does not believe it would be illegal for Israel to annex the territory, as examples that should disqualify him from the post.

Friedman's confirmation hearing comes one day after Trump broke with decades of U.S. policy, signaling he could forgo a long-sought two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in favor of a one state solution. 

Obama administration officials consistently warned that should the option be pursued, Israel would cease to be a democracy, or would have to give up on its desired identity as a Jewish state given Palestinian population trends. 

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