WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks Thursday at the confirmation hearing of Mr. David Friedman to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel:
“The U.S.-Israel relationship is a strategic anchor for the United States in the Middle East. Indeed, it is one of our most important relationships with any country. It is a deep and genuine friendship that extends across our governments and is enriched by extensive, deep people-people ties.
“Your nomination comes at a critical point for Israel and for the U.S.-Israel relationship. As I know my colleagues on the Committee appreciate, Israel finds itself in a sea of instability, confronted with threats on every border:
-To the south, ISIS in the Sinai continues to be a serious security threat despite much improved cooperation with Egypt. As recently as last week, ISIS militants launched a barrage of rockets into Eilat.
-To the west, Hamas maintains its stronghold on Gaza – and it is diverting materials intended for civilians to rebuild its rocket arsenal and construct terror tunnels into Israel.
-To the north, Hezbollah is gaining battlefield experience in Syria that will inevitably be focused on Israel when that terror group’s fighters return to Lebanon.
-To the east, the war in Syria is a magnet for violent extremists, and Iran, with Russian acquiescence, maintains a strategic corridor with a willing Assad in Damascus to its proxy force Hezbollah in Lebanon.
-And across the region, the Iranian regime continues to spew anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric, sponsoring terror groups that pose a direct threat to Israel’s security.
“In contrast to its neighbors – and at a time when the forces of authoritarianism, xenophobia, and illiberalism are on the rise in all too many places — Israel is and remains a vibrant democracy. It is home to a lively civil society and energetic, opinionated political discourse.
“Its vibrant and diverse economy offers tremendous opportunities from its high-tech sector and start-up culture to its achievements in agriculture and alternative energy. Our defense sectors have collaborated to produce Iron Dome, a life-saving missile defense system. Israel’s innovative green and renewable energy sector, one of the leaders in the world, puts Israel in a position to be an energy provider to its neighbors.
“The U.S. Ambassador to Israel plays a key role in engaging all communities within Israel, all sectors of its economy, and representing our government and the American people to Israel’s government, parliament, and people. The U.S. Ambassador also plays a vital role in opening up U.S. Embassy doors to all groups, regardless of their politics or views.
“The Ambassador will help chart the U.S .response to countering Israeli isolation in international organizations, as Senator Graham said, and effectively counter the BDS movement which threatens the legitimacy of Israel and fosters anti-Semitism.
“Given the breadth, depth, and complexity of the issues included in the portfolio of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Friedman, I have questions about your preparedness for this position. I am unsure of how an individual with your record will or can represent all Americans to all Israelis, or whether you are committed to long-standing U.S. policy for the two-state solution.
“Of the last ten Ambassadors to Israel, across Republican and Democratic Administrations, all ten had prior U.S. Government experience, nine had prior professional experience in the Middle East, and eight had already served at least once as U.S. Ambassador to other countries.
“I do not question that your background as a bankruptcy lawyer has enabled you to develop skills navigating complex, multilateral negotiations…but serving as the top diplomat to one of our most important allies in a region beset by violent conflict, armed militant and terrorist groups, and unstable autocrats requires a distinct set of skills and a distinct temperament.
“Frankly, the language you have regularly used against those who disagree with your views has me concerned about your preparedness to enter the world of diplomacy
“So I will follow Senator Lieberman’s advice, and ask directly that you respond to these types of concerns.
“For the record, it is important to note examples:
-reviving Holocaust terms to equate J Street supporters with Nazi collaborators or questioning their commitment and love for Israel;
-calling the Anti-Defamation League “morons”;
-stating that liberal Jews “suffer from a cognitive disconnect in identifying good and evil”;
-And Mr. Friedman, I could mention your specific comments about President Obama or your specific comments about members of the United States Senate including the Democratic Leader. And I would ask that you respond to that.
“These are written comments – cases where you had the opportunity to consider what you were saying, to make judicious edits if you so desired. You chose otherwise.
“I hope you also will offer a clear and unequivocal rejection of these inflammatory accusations as part of your testimony here today – and also reassure us that you are capable of acting with the discipline, tact, wisdom and diplomacy that serving as a US Ambassador requires.
“I am also concerned that your views on the two-state solution constitutes an unprecedented break with long-standing U.S. policy. Republican and Democratic Administrations alike have promoted two states living side by side in peace and security. A democratic, Israel – a Jewish state – and a demilitarized Palestinian state.
“Written excerpts from your writings on this topic include:
-Your August 2, 2016 piece in an Israeli publication entitled, ‘end the two-state narrative,’ where you go on to call it a ‘damaging anachronism’ and ‘illusory solution in search of a non-existent problem’
-In that same piece you state that Palestinians recognize ‘the advantages of integration into Israeli society’
“I do not see how Israel can remain democratic and Jewish in a one-state solution – the demographics are unambiguous in this regard. I still have not heard one realistic solution to what happens to Hamas in Gaza in a one-state solution. I hope you will be crystal-clear on what your view is regarding a realistic, sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Finally, your record of financial and rhetorical support for a settlement far outside the blocs – presumed to join Israel with mutually agreed land swaps as part of a two-state solution – are troubling. The webpage for the gala dinner last year in New York in support of the Bet El settlement explicitly states that it is ‘creating facts on the ground’ and notes a new initiative to ‘train students with the tools to successfully delegitimize the notion a two-state solution.’
“In an August 2015 piece you wrote: ‘Some ten years ago, the State of Israel went through extraordinary internal angst in compelling the evacuation of 8,000 brave Jewish souls in the relatively remote Gaza Strip. Does anyone really think that Israel has the political will to do the same to the many hundreds of thousands of residents of Judea and Samaria? These are not people who live on the fringes of Israeli society. They are completely integrated into Israeli commerce and culture and serve in the most elite units of the Israeli army. They will never be forced to leave their beautiful communities.’
“Even President Trump last week said in an interview with an Israeli newspaper said: ‘[Settlements] don’t help the process…There is so much land left. And every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left.’
“So again, Mr. Friedman, I hope that you will clarify your views on settlements, on the two-state solution, and on comments you’ve made about my colleagues and others during the course of this hearing.
“My commitment to the State of Israel is unyielding. I believe that it is a critical relationship for the United States, and have worked in my many decades in public service to assure that there is strong, stable, and mutually beneficial relationship between our countries. Likewise, I am confident of the commitment and support of my colleagues on this Committee, even though we may have different views and conflicting views on how that commitment is best expressed. So it is in that spirit, Mr. Friedman, that I look forward to your testimony today.”