J Street’s goal: Isolate Ambassador Friedman

February 27, 2017
David Friedman in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 16. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Opponents of the Trump administration’s choice for U.S. Ambassador to Israel conceded on Monday that the campaign against David Friedman will not lead to their desired outcome, given the Republican majority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. However, leaders of J Street and its supporters stressed that the ultimate goal is to challenge the administration on Israeli-Palestinian issues and isolate Friedman from the White House decision making process.

“I do expect a roughly party-line vote in the committee. I also acknowledge that there’s very little precedent for a nominee being struck down in an actual floor vote,” Dylan Williams, Vice President of Government Affairs for J Street, told Jewish Insider at the J Street National Conference in Washington, D.C. “With that in mind, it’s important to realize that a large part of this fight is about where this administration should take U.S. policy with respect to Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

According to Williams, Friedman’s longheld views on the issues are looming over the battle going on between the national security establishment and President Trump’s close advisors over what the administration’s policy should be on the two-state solution. If the outcome of the campaign against Friedman would result in diminishing his influence on policy, Williams declared “we would see that as a victory.”

Earlier on Monday, Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, suggested that Friedman’s influence on the Administration’s policy is being exaggerated. “He’s going to be in Jerusalem, he’s not going to be in Washington,” Indyk said during a panel moderated by NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman. “He is not going to be in the White House. His ability to actually influence policy when his job is to implement policy shouldn’t be exaggerated.”

Alon Pinkas, former Israeli Consul General to New York, echoed the same sentiment during a panel on Sunday. “Friedman is not going to drive policy. He is going to do what he is being told,” said Pinkas. “It is along the lines of the changing role of the Ambassador.”

In response to a reporter’s question if J Street has adopted an excessively negative campaign against Friedman, Williams replied: “The thrust of our campaign about Mr. Friedman has been using his own words. To the extent that anyone views the tone as unpleasant or confrontational, it is the words of Mr. Friedman that they are having a visceral reaction to.”

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