Left-leaning Jewish advocacy group J Street is demanding a meeting with President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, saying that David Friedman had privately told senators that he agreed to meet with a group that he fiercely criticized last year and is now ignoring J Street’s entreaties.
In a letter to Friedman, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said that Friedman must meet with him before he is confirmed to prove that he willing to engage with advocacy groups that disagree with his brand of conservative politics. Friedman could be confirmed this month, Republican aides said, though he may draw significant opposition for inflammatory statements he has made about groups like J Street.
“We understand that during this process you have committed to senators that you are willing to meet with with pro-Israel organizations whose views you do not share, and with J Street specifically,” Ben Ami wrote this week in a letter obtained by POLITICO. “We would also like to clarify whether you commit to meeting with delegations of lawmakers and pro-Israel advocates organized by groups you have criticized or with whom you may disagree, including J Street. Accordingly, I am requesting a meeting with you to take place before the final vote on your confirmation.”
The letter continued: “Senators and other pro-Israel Americans should know before the final vote on your confirmation whether you stated willingness to meet with those you disagree is merely a ‘hearing room conversation,’ or whether you intend to make good on your representations to lawmakers.”
A spokeswoman for the group said Friedman has not responded to the request. Friedman did not respond to a request for comment.
Whether he meets with J Street could determine whether Friedman gets bipartisan support: His past criticisms of J Street played a significant role in his hearing and were brought up by four individual Democratic senators. In an op-ed last year Friedman compared J Street to Kapos, or Jews who helped the Nazi during the Holocaust.
“Words like Kapos resonate with me in particular … how cruel and mean-spirited that kind of language is. You understand that right?” asked Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) last month.
Friedman replied that he understands the criticism of his remarks and they are “something that I deeply regret.” In the op-ed Friedman wrote that J Street’s members are “far worse than Kapos.”
“They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas – it’s hard to imagine anyone worse,” he wrote for Arutz Sheva.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said at the hearing that because “Kapos” remark was written and not off-the cuff, it demonstrates Friedman’s “complete and total unfitness for this extremely important office.”
“I have and will continue to reject the inflammatory comments. I have reached out over the last several months to a number of people who have been hurt by the things I’ve said or have communicated to me that they would like to speak with me,” Friedman responded to Udall.
J Street itself is a controversial organization on Capitol Hill, particularly after it supported President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. At his confirmation hearing, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called the attacks on Friedman “unreal” and said that J Street “routinely attacks people who hold my views with content I find to be a smear and quite frankly a mischaracterizaton of our positions.”