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Trump’s pick for Israel envoy goes on damage control

Richard Lardner
Associated Press

Washington — The combative attorney President Donald Trump picked as his ambassador to Israel sought to repair the damage from past attacks on political opponents, telling Congress he deeply regretted using inflammatory language and promised to be “respectful and measured” should he be confirmed.

During his confirmation hearing Thursday, David Friedman said he deserved criticism for incendiary comments that targeted former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, liberal Jewish advocacy groups and others. Friedman had called one group, J Street, “worse than kapos” — a reference to Jews who helped the Nazis imprison fellow Jews during the Holocaust.

“Apology is the first step to atonement,” Friedman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I have profound differences of opinion with J Street. My regret is that I did not express my views respectfully.”

The son of an Orthodox rabbi, Friedman has been a fervent supporter of Israeli settlements, an opponent of Palestinian statehood and staunch defender of Israel’s government.

The hearing played out along familiar party lines. Republicans largely sought to play to the Trump nominee’s strengths, while Democrats aimed for weak spots. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., vigorously defended Friedman and rejected the notion that he needed to distance himself from passionately held beliefs. Rubio argued the U.S. should be unashamedly pro-Israel.

But Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., delivered a blistering assessment of Friedman’s record, which the senator said is full of insulting comments and extreme views. Friedman labels anyone who disagrees with him, including the entire Obama State Department, as anti-Semitic, Udall said.

Udall referenced a letter from five former American ambassadors to Israel who called Friedman unfit for the post. The former envoys, who served Republican and Democratic presidents, cited examples of Friedman’s “extreme, radical positions,” such as believing it would not be illegal for Israel to annex the occupied West Bank.

During the hearing, Friedman assured members he would not campaign for such an annexation.

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Thursday the United States “absolutely” supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and anyone who thinks it doesn’t is in “error.”

Haley’s comments were far more forceful in support of a two-state solution than President Trump’s on Wednesday. He said: “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”