President Donald Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday, overcoming strong opposition from Democrats.
Friedman was approved 52-46 in a roll call vote, an unusual step. U.S. ambassadors to Israel, a country that has long enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Congress, have traditionally been approved by voice vote or through unanimous consent.
Friedman, an Orthodox Jew with no past diplomatic experience, was previously Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer. In the past, he’s downplayed the importance of a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict and raised funds for Israeli settlements built on land claimed by the Palestinians.
He’s also used extreme language, accusing the State Department of anti-Semitism and comparing left-leaning Jewish activists to “kapos” — a reference to Jews assigned by Nazis to oversee prisoners at concentration camps.
But during his confirmation hearing, Friedman apologized for his past rhetoric and pledged to uphold U.S. policy, whatever that may prove to be under Trump.
While the president has said he’d be comfortable with either a one-state or two-state solution, others in his administration insist the U.S. remains committed to the two-state approach. So far, the Trump administration appears to view continued Israeli settlement construction as detrimental to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Republicans appear willing to accept Friedman’s apologies and assurances that he would take his responsibilities as a U.S. ambassador seriously. “David Friedman has the skills and experience to represent the United States in one of the most complex regions in the world,” GOP Senator David Perdue of Georgia said in a statement after Friedman was confirmed.
Several Democrats spoke on the floor against his nomination. “We should not risk confirming him to this important post. We have seen how distracting and destructive hot-headedness is in the seat of power,” said Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico.
One key question Friedman will face upon taking his new position involves the location of the U.S. Embassy in Israel. Conservative pro-Israel groups want the embassy moved from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem. Such a move, however, would anger many in the Arab world. Friedman has reportedly said he would live in Jerusalem as ambassador.