David Friedman (front, C), the newly appointed United States Ambassador to Israel, arrives to a ceremony whereby President Reuven Rivlin will receive Friedman's diplomatic credentials at his residence in Jerusalem May 16, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In his maiden public speech as US ambassador, David Friedman steered clear of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and instead waded into the wars of the Jews over the Western Wall, saying: “We will defeat our enemies, the question is if we can survive ourselves.”
In a speech in Jerusalem on Tuesday that the ambassador devoted to the topic of Jewish unity, Friedman referred to his past comments about J Street, when he called the group’s supporters “worse than kapos,” and said, “I am as guilty as anyone else for having entered the partisan divide that has, unfortunately, to some extent fractured the Jewish community in the US and in Israel. But it has to end.”
He pledged “to treat the Jewish people of whatever stripe, whatever political views, with the same dignity and respect that they all deserve. And I hope we all do the same. We must turn the page.”
Friedman was speaking at a B’nai B’rith World Center award ceremony for excellence in journalism on Diaspora affairs.
Friedman, who went off script in a speech he said originally was to deal with the breadth and depth of the US-Israeli relationship, said he wanted to speak, not as an ambassador, but as “a member of the Jewish faith” and the son of a rabbi who committed his life to Jewish unity. His father was the rabbi of a Conservative synagogue in New York’s Long Island.
Sadly, Friedman said, the Jewish people is not where it needs to be in terms of unity.
“Yesterday, I heard something I thought I would never hear before,” he said. “I understand the source of the frustration and the source of the anger. I heard a major Jewish organization say they need to rethink their support of the State of Israel. That is something unthinkable in my lifetime, until yesterday. We have to do better. We must do better.”
Friedman did not say to which group he was referring, but Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, was quoted as saying that Sunday’s cabinet decisions on the Western Wall and conversion could lead many to rethink their support for Israel.
“There is a limit to how many times you can be delegitimized and insulted,” he was quoted as saying.
Friedman said he was not going to take sides on the issues, but that they can be resolved only through mutual respect and understanding.
“We have to get back to those basic principles of Jewish unity,” he said. “And the key to Jewish unity is that this is not a question of winning, it is a question of mutual understanding, respect and coexistence.
And as soon as somebody has to win, we are all going to lose.
Friedman, who spoke in a schmoozy fashion and punctuated his remarks with humor and words of Torah, said it was not enough for the Jewish people to unite around common enemies.
“We should unite about what is wonderful about our common existence,” he said.
“We should unite behind the miracle of the State of Israel. We are living through the incredible miracle of the birth and growth of the State of Israel.”
Friedman spoke briefly about the Trump administration, saying it was “a strong team very supportive of Israel.”
“I can assure you that you have people in the US administration whose hearts are in the right place,” he said.
Regarding the diplomatic process, he said only: “We are working very hard on the peace process. Those who talk, don’t know; and those who know, don’t talk. I know, and am not going to talk.”