Prominent Anti-Trump Rabbi: It Would Be ‘Anti-Jewish’ to Deny President’s Pick for Israel Ambassador a Chance to Be Heard
It would be “anti-Jewish” to deny President Donald Trump’s controversial pick for Israel ambassador the opportunity to speak, a prominent member of the American-Jewish clergy told The Algemeiner on Thursday.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, of the egalitarian Conservative synagogue Temple Emanu-El in Closter New Jersey, was explaining the impetus behind a letter that he and New York Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun Rabbi Elie Weinstock — the vice president of the NY Board of Rabbis — sent to the heads of the left-wing Jewish advocacy groups J Street and T’ruah this week, urging them to give ambassador-designate David Friedman a chance to be heard, rather than petitioning to have his nomination revoked, as they have been doing.
The Feb. 1 letter, addressed to J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami and T’ruah Executive Director Rabbi Jill Jacobs, presents a “humble request” to them to “allow Mr. Friedman his opportunity to appear before a Senate confirmation hearing and allow him to better articulate his views and answer any and all questions asked of him. He should be afforded the opportunity to address statements and views he has expressed previously that may be of concern to you or others.”
Kirshner, the vice president of the NJ Board of Rabbis, said that he and fellow board members met with Friedman, “because we don’t want to shut people out, even if their political views – or what we know of them – do not jibe with our own.”
This is particularly applicable in the case of an ambassador-designate, he said, “whose role is not to apply his own particular mandate, but rather to represent the positions of the administration that appointed him – just as [former US ambassadors to Israel] Martin Indyk, Daniel Kurtzer or Daniel Shapiro all did.”
Kirshner, self-described as “fiercely anti-Trump and vocal about it from the pulpit, on social media and in writings,” said that he is not at liberty to disclose any aspect of the 75-minute dialogue he and his colleagues held with Friedman in January, as protocol prevents appointees from giving interviews to the press or conducting any official meetings until after they are confirmed. However, he added, “I can tell you, based on our discussion, that he deserves a chance to be heard — just as I would say about J Street if it were denied such a chance in any forum.”
This, he said, is “despite the fact that I’m not a fan of J Street and am a fan of T’ruah. That said, my goal is not to demean anyone, but to urge them, as part of the Jewish community, to allow Friedman a voice, just as they should allow [newly confirmed Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos.”
The joint J Street rabbinic cabinet-T’ruah petition that spurred Kirshner’s and Weinstock’s letter reads, in part:
We are writing today as rabbis and cantors asking President Trump to withdraw the nomination of David Friedman to be the United States Ambassador to the state of Israel. Failing that, we implore the US Senate not to confirm him…
The Rabbis of the Talmud are adamant that we are to speak to and about other people — particularly those with whom we disagree — with love and respect. We are taught that shaming a person is tantamount to shedding their blood (Baba Metzia 58b).
Yet Mr. Friedman seems to have no qualms about insulting people with whom he disagrees. Mr. Friedman has repeatedly compared members of the Jewish community whose views on Israel differ from his own to “kapos,” who were Jews who collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust. He called members of J Street, a pro-Israel organization that wants to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians, “worse than kapos.” He has even questioned whether its more than 180,000 supporters are really Jews — as if he has the right to decide such a weighty matter.
This is the very antithesis of the diplomatic behavior Americans expect from their ambassadors… If Mr. Friedman cannot responsibly understand history, he cannot responsibly shape the future…
While we believe the above should be enough to disqualify Mr. Friedman, we have grave policy concerns as well. Mr. Friedman vocally supports the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank…
Moreover, Mr. Friedman opposes the two-state solution… We are very concerned that rather than try to represent the US as an advocate for peace, Mr. Friedman will seek to mold American policy in line with his extreme ideology…[which] would weaken Israel’s security, democracy, and status as the national homeland of the Jewish people…
Kirshner took issue with the petition on the grounds that “it is not what a lobby group is supposed to do,” which is utilize the tools of the democratic process. “And if, after the Senate confirmation hearings, J Street and T’ruah still oppose Friedman’s appointment, they should express their concerns to the appropriate members of Congress.”
This, concluded Kirshner, “is what makes the Jewish people and the American people — and Israel — thrive.”
J Street says of itself that it was “created to serve as the political home and voice for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans. The views of the majority of American Jews were previously underrepresented and ignored in our politics. We’re changing that, and in the process transforming our national conversation about what it means to be pro-Israel.”
T’ruah says it “brings a rabbinic voice and the power of the Jewish community to protecting and advancing human rights in North America, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories.”
As The Algemeiner reported in December, Friedman’s nomination has drawn praise from right-wing Jewish groups and dismay from the other side of the political spectrum, due to his outspoken support for Israeli settlements and a relocation of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He has also announced that he will take up residence in an apartment he owns in Jerusalem, rather than in the official ambassador’s quarters in Herzliya.