“I want to speak to you to some extent not as the United States Ambassador to Israel, but as a member of the Jewish faith and as the son of a rabbi who practiced before his pulpit for at least 45 years and committed his life to Jewish unity,” Friedman, who is Orthodox, prefaced his remarks to the group. It was his first public speech since assuming the post of ambassador.
“There are people who commit their lives to Jewish unity, but sadly we’re not where we need to be. Yesterday, I heard something that I once thought I would never hear. I heard a major Jewish organization say that it needed to ‘rethink’ its support for the state of Israel. This is something unthinkable. We have to do better. We must do better,” Friedman said.
“There is plenty of room to cast blame, whether it’s on the issue of the Western Wall or the issue of conversion. I’m not going to take sides tonight, but I can tell you that we can only resolve these issues by mutual respect and understanding. We have to get back to those basic principles of Jewish unity.”
The key to Jewish unity, he asserted “is that nobody ever has to win. This is not a question of winning. This is a question of mutual understanding and respect and co-existence. As soon as someone wants to win – everybody’s going to lose.”
Friedman referred to an apology he made during his confirmation hearings for derogatory things he had said about left-wing Jewish activists, 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 U.S. 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.”
On the subject of Mideast peacemaking, about which he was originally scheduled to speak, the ambassador said he could not go into details:
“There’s an expression in English: ‘Those who talk don’t know, and those who know don’t talk.’ And so, here I actually know, so I’m not going to talk.”
“I don’t see any real purpose in jumping the gun on some sensitive discussions,” he said.
“We have a very pro-Israel administration. We have a President who made a trip to Israel a very high priority. He’s the first sitting President in the history of the United States to go to the Western Wall, and we have a very, very strong team of people that are very much supportive – I think in unprecedented ways – of the state of Israel.”