Thursday’s confirmation hearing for David Friedman, President Trump’s nominee to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Israel, started on an ominous note. Addressing those assembled, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker warned that while in the past he had been successful in getting protesters “unarrested,” a change in policy meant anyone removed for creating a disturbance would not be so lucky. To some laughter, Corker’s Senate colleague Lindsey Graham, a former private-practice lawyer, chimed in with an offer of legal services.
But as Friedman started to answer the committee's questions, Corker’s warnings went unheeded. Several protesters—a Palestinian man, a Code Pink activist, and three shofar-wielding Jewish demonstrators—caused a ruckus and were removed.
Though the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel has long tended to stir controversy in some quarters, the Senate, where consensus on and support for the Jewish state is overwhelmingly bipartisan, is not one of those places. And so, it was more than a little surreal for the protesters—who could not be saved from arrest—to have their objections about Friedman furthered by the Senate.
Like his boss, David Friedman is neither a conventional politician nor a diplomat. As some members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee noted on Thursday, the bankruptcy lawyer is a rare nominee with no government experience to draw on for such a historically fraught post. He has also displayed a cavalier penchant for less-than-diplomatic language and policy utterances that fall outside of the mainstream. As my colleague David Graham noted in December, Friedman “has left behind a long trail of statements indicating his views, including equating liberal Americans Jews to ‘kapos’ who assisted Nazis in ghettos; labeling President Barack Obama an anti-Semite; and suggesting Israel should annex the West Bank.” In a statement accompanying his nomination, Friedman struck a partisan note by positioning the controversial relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—a polarizing campaign pledge from which Trump has lately seemed to distance himself—as a foregone conclusion.