JTA - Sen. Bernie Sanders asked David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, whether he would back using funds earmarked for assistance to Israel to help rebuild the Gaza Strip.
Sanders, in a letter he handed Friedman after they met Wednesday, also asked whether he thinks the tax-exempt status of groups that raise funds for Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria should be reviewed. JTA obtained a copy of the letter on Thursday.
The questions in the letter are significant as they suggest the planned policy on Israel among the radical left-wing of the Democratic party.
Sanders has emerged as a de facto leader of the far-left following his insurgent but unsuccessful campaign last year for the Democratic presidential nomination. In perhaps the best-received speech over the weekend at the annual conference of J Street, the leftist Middle East policy group, Sanders pushed the theme that pro-Israel Jews need not hesitate to criticize Israeli government policies.
His letter outlines three questions for Friedman: whether he supports a two-state outcome to the Arab-Israeli conflict; the appropriateness of an ambassador having deep involvement in the communities of Judea and Samaria, as Friedman does; and regarding Israeli assistance.
The stated goal of US policy on the conflict up to now was the two-state solution. US President Donald Trump has signaled that the US would pursue any solution that works, even if it does not result in the creation of a new Arab state in Judea and Samaria. The Democratic party remains committed to the two-state solution.
The second two points in Sanders' letter, however, venture into areas that Democrats have yet to embrace.
“As ambassador, would you take steps to end the flow of donations to illegal settlements, perhaps by supporting the re-examination [of] their tax-exempt status?” Sanders asked.
Sanders also asked Friedman whether “a portion” of the $38 billion in defense aid to Israel over the next 10 years under an agreement signed last year by former President Barack Obama “should be directed toward measures that would facilitate a much greater flow of humanitarian and reconstruction materials” to Gaza.
Aid to Israel in Congress and the pro-Israel community has been sacrosanct, and no president has seriously proposed cutting it since Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s. Subsequent presidents used short delays in delivery of assistance and the amount that the United States guarantees Israel’s loans as means of leveraging pressure on Israel, but assistance has been untouched.
Sanders cast the proposal in part as one that would help secure Gaza by stabilizing the strip. However, Hamas has taken most of the aid monies it receives to strengthen its fighting capability. And the idea comes at a time that Republicans in Congress are proposing cutting assistance to the Palestinian Authority as a means of pressuring them into direct talks with Israel and pushing the Palestinian Authority to end subsidies for the families of jailed or killed terrorists.
Friedman, a longtime lawyer to Trump, did not reply to a request for comment.