On February 16, 2017, President Donald Trump’s longtime bankruptcy lawyer and nominee as U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, sat before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing.
Friedman is an ardent Zionist whose past statements on the Israel-Palestine conflict are fiercely anti-Palestinian. For example, in an opinion piece about “Arab terror” for the right-wing news outlet, Israel National News, Friedman claimed that “[p]eace will come if and when Palestinians learn to stop hating us and to embrace life rather than worship death.” He has also rejected the Palestinian right of return, stating that the integration of Palestinian refugees into their ancient homeland is tantamount to the “ethnic cleansing” of Jews.
Friedman is openly hostile to the two-state solution. He is a strong supporter of Israeli settlement expansion in both the West Bank and Jerusalem, and has called Jewish organizations who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause worse than Nazi collaborators. Despite all this, Friedman was approved by the Senate as U.S. ambassador to Israel on March 24.
During his February 16 hearing, Friedman attempted to quell concerns over his divisive positions, stating:
Some of the language that I used during the highly charged presidential campaign that ended last November has come in for criticism, and rightfully so. While I maintain profound differences of opinion with some of my critics, I regret the use of such language, and want to assure you that I understand the critical difference between the partisan rhetoric of a political contest, and a diplomatic mission. Partisan rhetoric is not appropriate in achieving diplomatic progress, especially in a sensitive and strife-torn region like the Middle East.
Unconvinced by Friedman’s conspicuous volte-face, a group of six protestors from American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Code Pink, and IfNotNow intermittently stood up in protest throughout the entirety of the nine minute hearing. After interrupting Friedman mid-sentence, each of the protestors were ejected from the hearing by Capitol Hill police.
The protestors were all lightly reprimanded (and ultimately released) for their disruption, with the exception of two AMP staffers—Taher Herzallah and Kareem El-Hosseiny. According to a statement by AMP:
Capitol Hill Police arrested six people protesting at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel on Feb. 16, 2017. Herzallah and El-Hosseiny — the only two Arabs and Muslims in the group — are also the only two facing criminal charges filed against them by the U.S. Attorney’s office. Three of the white Jewish protesters were allowed to pay a small fine the same day. One had his case transferred to traffic court.
For doing nothing more than protesting Friedman’s lack of diplomatic experience and bigoted, vitriolic rhetoric, Herzallah and El-Hosseiny were charged with “unlawful conduct” and “disrupting Congress.” They now face six months in prison and a fine of $500 each.
AMP’s statement details how you can help Herzallah and El-Hosseiny before their court date:
We feel that Herzallah and El-Hosseiny were targeted for selective prosecution.
We intend to vigorously challenge this selective prosecution, on the grounds that the charges were based on racial, religious, and ethnic bias. We need your help to support our challenge and to get the charges dropped.
This is not a Muslim vs. Jewish issue. Indeed, the Jewish protesters from Code Pink and IfNotKnow, who also were arrested, have rallied around the AMP staffers. No one should have been detained because the protesters were exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and political dissent.
Herzallah and El-Hosseiny are due to appear before DC Superior Court on April 20.
Please help us make noise to get the charges dropped.
There are three ways you can help:
Twitter blast from Noon to 3 p.m. EST, on Thursday, April 13. We’re targeting media to get coverage
Join our rally outside the courthouse, 500 Indiana Ave., NW, at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, April 20.
Help us fill the Courtroom 311 at 9 a.m., Thursday, April 20.
Herzallah and El-Hosseiny are among the most dedicated and principled American Muslims leading the Palestine solidarity movement today. Irrespective of popular support, they have consistently stood on the side of justice. As Muslims, Palestinians, Jews, and conscientious Americans who work in the name of freedom, equality, and justice, it is our obligation to stand by these two activists now and help them in whatever way we can.
You can view AMP’s full plea here.