Trump nominee for Israel ambassador heckled, questioned at Senate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Israel faced repeated heckling at a Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday as well as tough questions on views he has expressed about liberal American Jews, Jewish settlements and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who Trump has called a longtime friend and trusted adviser, has supported Israeli settlement building and advocated for the annexation of the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war.

His nomination has been fiercely opposed by some American Jewish groups.

Friedman expressed regret over derogatory comments he made likening liberal American Jews to Jewish prisoners who worked for the Nazis during the Holocaust, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in his opening statement, "I regret the use of such language."

A shift in U.S. policy toward Israel has already begun. On Wednesday, with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side, Trump dropped a U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, long a bedrock of Washington's Middle East policy, even as he urged Netanyahu to curb settlement construction.

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President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu
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President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, speaks while Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli's prime minister, smiles during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

(Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the White House after a meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli's prime minister, not pictured, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

(Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump (2ndR) and first lady Melania Trump meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara (L) in the Oval Office of White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Chief strategist to US President Donald Trump arrives for a joint press conference by Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House on February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC.

(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner (L) and his wife Ivanka Trump talk with Sara Netanyahu (front L) as she arrives for a joint press conference between U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli's prime minister, speaks during a news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

(Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves following meetings with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump smiles outside the West Wing of the White House as Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, not pictured, departs in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway (2nd L) listens during a joint news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the East Room of the White House February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump hosted Prime Minister Netanyahu for talks for the first time since Trump took office on January 20.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer waits for the beginning of a joint news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the East Room of the White House February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump hosted Prime Minister Netanyahu for talks for the first time since Trump took office on January 20.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, speaks with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, waves while leaving the West Wing of the White House after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture Directort Lonnie Bunch(2ndR), talks with first Lady Melania Trump and Sara Netanyahu, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as they tour the Museum along with Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton, left, on February 15, 2017, in Washington, DC.

(MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. first lady Melania Trump and Sara Netanyahu stand together during a visit to the African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

President Donald Trump addresses a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

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The controversy over Friedman's nomination erupted in the hearing room as Friedman began his opening statement, with several hecklers including a man who held up the Palestinian flag and shouted about Palestinian claims to the land of Israel.

"My grandfather was exiled," the man said before being escorted out of the room. "Palestinians will always be in Palestine!"

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, acknowledged that Friedman has said things he did not agree with but said he backed the nominee as qualified, experienced and passionate.

"I believe he is the right guy at the right time. He'll be Trump's voice. Trump won the election," Graham said.

Senator Ben Cardin, the senior Democrat on the committee, said he was concerned about Friedman's stances.

"Mr Friedman, I have questions about your preparedness for this important post. I am uncertain of how you will represent all Americans to all Israelis and whether you are committed to a longstanding U.S. policy to a two-state solution," Cardin said.

Five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel from both Republican and Democratic administrations urged the Senate in a letter not to confirm Friedman, saying that he holds "extreme, radical positions" on issues such as Jewish settlements and the two-state solution.

"We believe him to be unqualified for the position," wrote the former ambassadors including Thomas Pickering, Edward Walker, Daniel Kurtzer, James Cunningham and William Harrop.

Friedman is likely to be confirmed by the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

While campaigning for the presidency, Trump pledged to switch the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, where it has been located for 68 years, to Jerusalem, all but enshrining the city as Israel's capital regardless of international objections.

34 PHOTOS
Life inside Israeli settlements
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Life inside Israeli settlements
A Jewish man covered in a prayer shawl, prays in the Jewish settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank December 18, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Israeli teenagers rest in a tent as they prepare for an expected eviction of the Jewish settlement outpost of Amona in the West Bank, December 9, 2016 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A construction site is seen in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, in the occupied West Bank December 22, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Houses are seen in the Jewish settlement of Har Gilo, in the occupied West Bank, December 29, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Israeli soldiers are seen next to a bus stop covered with posters from the Israeli branch of the U.S. Republican party campaign in favour of Donald Trump, near the West Bank Jewish Settlement of Ariel October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Palestinian labourer works at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Efrat, in the occupied West Bank, December 29, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Houses in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev are seen from the Israeli settlement of Givon Ha'hadasha (bottom), in the occupied West Bank, December 29, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A general view shows a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Efrat, in the occupied West Bank, December 29, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Israeli youths build a wooden structure in the Jewish settler outpost of Amona, in the West Bank November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Palestinian labourers work at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Efrat, in the occupied West Bank, December 29, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Students do pull-ups as they train at the Bnei David academy, the first religious military prep school and Jewish seminary, in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Eli, south of Nablus, January 31, 2016. Picture taken on January 31, 2016. To match Special Report ISRAEL-MILITARY/RELIGION REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
A Palestinian labourer walks at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Efrat, in the occupied West Bank, December 29, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A man pushes a shopping cart outside Shufersal, Israel's largest supermarket chain, in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Mishor Adumim near Jerusalem May 5, 2013. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/Files Photo
A Palestinian labourer works at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Efrat, in the occupied West Bank, December 29, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Houses are seen in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev (bottom) with the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the backgraund, in the occupied West Bank, December 29, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A worker walks on scaffoldings in a construction site at the Israeli settlement of Har Homa, in the occupied West Bank December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A general view shows a Star of David near buildings in the Israeli settlement of Maale Edumim, in the occupied West Bank December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Israelis are seen near a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Ramat Shlomo, in the occupied West Bank December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A Palestinian labourer prays during his lunch break at Aluminum Construction, a factory located in the Industrial Park of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem, February 3, 2016. Picture taken February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
A construction worker labours on a building in the Israeli settlement of Maale Edumim, in the occupied West Bank December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Bulidings can be seen under construction in the Israeli settlement of Maale Edumim, in the occupied West Bank December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Bulidings under construction are seen in the Israeli settlement of Maale Edumim, in the occupied West Bank, December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A Palestinian man rides a donkey near the Israeli settlement of Maale Edumim, in the occupied West Bank, December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Israeli boys from the Ziv family play outside their home in the Jewish settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank, November 22, 2016. Picture taken November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Houses are seen in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim as the Palestinian village of Al-Eizariya is seen in the background May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
An Israeli boy looks through the sight of a weapon during a display of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) equipment and abilities at the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, April 23, 2015, during celebrations for Israel's Independence Day, marking the 67th anniversary of the creation of the state. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Elad Ziv prepares food in his home in the Jewish settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank, November 22, 2016. Picture taken November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Israeli youths push a water tank as they construct a temporary barrier in the Jewish settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Players from Israeli soccer clubs affiliated with Israel Football Association, Ariel Municipal Soccer Club and Maccabi HaSharon Netanya, play against each other at Ariel Municipal Soccer Club's training grounds in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel September 23, 2016. Picture taken September 23, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Israeli youths use a tractor as they build wooden structures in the Jewish settler outpost of Amona, in the West Bank November 29, 2016. The sticker on the tractor in Hebrew reads:, "For the second time, Amona will not fall" REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Israeli teenagers walk on graffiti reading in Hebrew "Soldier, policeman, refuse orders" as they prepare for an expected eviction of the Jewish settlement outpost of Amona in the West Bank, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Palestinian labourers work at Aluminum Construction, a factory located in the Industrial Park of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem, February 3, 2016. Picture taken February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Israeli men stand next to a structure with Hebrew graffiti reading "over Judea and Samaria, there will be war" in the early morning in the Jewish settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
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