WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, decried the phrase “pro-Israel, pro-peace” — a motto closely associated with J Street — as “blasphemous.”
“Pro-Israel and pro-peace sounds like a completely reasonable position,” Friedman said Tuesday addressing the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “My friends, it is not. Using that praise plainly implies that there are people who are pro-Israel and anti-peace.”
Friedman, formerly a lawyer for President Donald Trump, came under fire during his nomination process for having attacked liberal Jews, including his claim that J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East lobby, was “worse than kapos.” He apologized during his testimony, although he ignored J Street requests for a personal apology.
“If you support Israel, then you must by definition support peace with its neighbors,” Friedman said. “It is no less than blasphemous to suggest that any Jew or any Christian is against peace.”
If a state of war persists, Friedman said, “I strongly suggest that we blame someone other than Israel for this predicament.”
J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said in response that commitments to peace involved taking action.
“Contra David Friedman, it’s not blasphemous to suggest that the settlement movement and its allies in the Netanyahu and Trump governments are not committed to peace. They have spent years helping to expand and entrench the occupation — undermining the two-state solution and endangering Israel’s future,” Ben-Ami said.
“If Ambassador Friedman wants to defend settlements, demonize Palestinians, oppose the two state-solution and still claim to support peace, that’s his right,” he said. “Meanwhile, the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement will oppose his policies and continue to work to actually promote peace and secure Israel’s future.”
The bulk of Friedman’s speech was devoted to attacking those who use the phrase, which was notable considering how substantially Trump has moved U.S. policy to be more aligned with the policies of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Friedman spoke of those changes, particularly Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in May.
Trump’s actions “represent a fundamental shift, a sea change, if you will, in the way America relates to its closest ally in the Middle East,” Friedman said. American Jews owe Trump a “debt of gratitude,” he said.
Friedman otherwise noted the diversity of support for Israel among Americans, and in both major parties, Republican and Democratic.
He said American support for Israel had paid divine dividends.
“We can’t help but be convinced that America’s steadfast support for Israel has had a profound effect on its good fortune,” the envoy said.