President Donald Trump's choice to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel sought Thursday to assure skeptical senators that he can be fair-minded despite previous public statements doubting a Palestinian state and supporting Jewish home building in the West Bank.
"Some of the inflammatory language I used during the highly charged presidential campaign . . . has come in for criticism, and rightfully so," New York lawyer and staunch Trump supporter David M. Friedman said.
"I regret the use of such language and I want to assure you that I understand the important difference between a political contest and a diplomatic mission," Friedman said. "From my perspective, the inflammatory rhetoric used during the election campaign is entirely over and you should expect my comments to be respectful from now on."
Asked about insults he lobbed at then-President Obama, Sen. Chuck Schumer and others about support for the Iran nuclear deal, Friedman said he regrets them.
"There is no excuse. If you want me to rationalize it or justify it, I cannot," Friedman said. "These were hurtful words and I deeply regret them. They are not reflective of my nature or my character."
A pro-Palestinian demonstrator interrupted Friedman before he had finished his first sentence, and another followed after the nominee had introduced his family behind him.
"We are there, we will always be there," the man shouted.
The hearing began with an acknowledgment from all sides that it was going to be contentious. Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., began by warning would-be protesters that he couldn't keep them from being arrested.
Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., helped introduce Friedman and urged colleagues troubled by Friedman's past public positions to ask the nominee about them but to keep an open mind.
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, read through a highlight list of some of Friedman's most controversial statements, including likening a U.S. Jewish group to "kapos," or Jewish Holocaust collaborators.
"I have questions about your preparedness to this post," Cardin said.
The liberal group Friedman had attacked, J Street, is generally critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited the White House on Wednesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also helped introduce Friedman.
"Mr. Friedman is very passionate. He has said some things I don't agree with but I never doubt that he did it based on what he thinks was the right things to say at the time," Graham said.
Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.