A Senate panel has approved the nomination of David Friedman as the next United States ambassador to Israel.
The controversial, right-wing bankruptcy lawyer, who was President Donald Trump’s nominee for the post, won 12 votes to nine at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
The appointment of Mr Friedman would mark a U-turn in American policy on Israel. He is an enthusiastic supporter of Israeli settlements and has said he is in favour of Israel annexing the West Bank. He has also claimed that the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank is exaggerated.
“The Israelis have just as much right, if not a much greater right, to Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] as the Palestinians,” he said during an internet radio show, Your Voice Radio, in November. “When they sit down and talk to each other, it’ll be on that basis. That, I think, is frankly a unique position of Donald Trump, and one which we’re very proud of.”
He also supports Mr Trump’s contentious promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would signal American recognition for Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
Mr Friedman has been employed as a bankruptcy lawyer by Mr Trump for many years, representing his investments in casinos in Atlantic City. The two men became friends in 2005 when Mr Trump visited Mr Friedman while the latter was observing shiva for his father.
Mr Friedman has been denounced for declaring former US president Barack Obama and his state department anti-Semites and accusing the liberal Jewish group J Street of being “kapos” – Jewish prisoners who worked for the Nazis in the concentration camps.
In his Senate hearing last month Mr Friedman apologised for some of the comments he had made in the past and promised to follow US law and policy if he was appointed ambassador.
Democrat committee member Tim Kaine was not convinced. “The region is incredibly volatile,” he told the hearing. “The last thing we need in this position is somebody who has a penchant for over-the-top, hyperbolic and even false statements.”
Mr Friedman’s nomination will now be considered in a full Senate hearing.