— President Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer with no diplomatic experience, apologized on Thursday for his language during the “highly charged presidential campaign,” an apparent reference to his comments comparing liberal American Jews to the Jews who aided the Nazis in the Holocaust.
Appearing before senators for his confirmation hearing, Mr. Friedman — a former campaign adviser who has aligned himself with the Israeli far right and questioned the need for a two-state solution — spoke broadly of regretting his language and promised to be “respectful and measured” if confirmed.
“The inflammatory rhetoric that accompanied the presidential campaign is entirely over,” he said.
Mr. Friedman came under fire last year for an op-ed he wrote for the website of Arutz Sheva, an Israeli news organization, in which he said supporters of the liberal Jewish lobbying organization J Street were “far worse than kapos,” the Jews who cooperated with the Nazis.
Despite his expression of contrition, several Democratic senators criticized him as unsuited to a diplomatic post, let alone one as critical as the ambassadorship to Israel.
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, pressed Mr. Friedman on his apology, pointing out that his remarks during the campaign were written, meaning he would have had time to carefully choose his words.
“I’m having difficulty understanding your use of those descriptions and whether you really can be a diplomat, because a diplomat has to choose every word that he or she uses,” Mr. Cardin said. “So why should I believe that these were just emotional expressions and that you now understand the difference between that role and the role as a diplomat?”
“There is no excuse,” Mr. Friedman said. “These were hurtful words, and I deeply regret them. They’re not reflective of my nature or my character.”
In a sign of the emotions surrounding Mr. Friedman, as he began his opening remarks, a protester abruptly stood up behind him, holding aloft the Palestinian flag and speaking loudly.
“We are going to win, Mr. Friedman,” he called out before being escorted away. “We were there, we are there now, and we are always going to be there. Palestinians will always be in Palestine.”
It was not the only time Mr. Friedman would be interrupted during his brief opening statement. As he and senators sat quietly, police officers removed the protesters, and some other spectators seemed agitated by the interruptions, admonishing the protesters to “sit down” and “show respect.”
Mr. Friedman’s concession made room for other difficult questions about the diplomatic policy he would be charged with carrying out. His testimony came just one day after Mr. Trump said during a news conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel that he could “live with” a one-state solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, apparently suggesting a break with longstanding American policy.
Mr. Friedman, an Orthodox Jew with deep investments in the settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, drew a careful distinction between his words and his opinions, saying that while he regretted some of his remarks, “my views are my views.”
Yet, presenting a more humble approach, he outlined much-tempered perspectives, repeatedly emphasizing his openness to differing opinions.
Although he has been dismissive of it in the past, he said the two-state solution had received “the most thought and effort and consideration.” He later elaborated that he had not seen any evidence that Palestinians had an “appetite” for unifying under a single state.
“It still remains the best possibility for peace in the region,” he told senators, referring to the two-state solution.
Republicans expressed few doubts about Mr. Friedman’s fitness. At one point, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida grew agitated, calling it “unreal” that Democrats were demanding that Mr. Friedman explain his past statements. Mr. Rubio said that, while the two-state solution was ideal, it did not seem realistic given Palestinian leaders’ incitement of violence.
“The worst thing we can try to do is go in there and impose on our most loyal and important ally in the region a deal that is bad for their security and bad for their future,” Mr. Rubio said. Mr. Friedman said he agreed.
As Mr. Friedman was reassuring senators, Nikki R. Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations, sought to soothe concerns Thursday that Mr. Trump’s comments reflected a shift away from the broad international consensus that a two-state solution is the best path to peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump said he was “looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”
Ms. Haley said the Trump administration “absolutely” supported a two-state solution.
Mr. Friedman also assured the committee that he would not push for the expansion of Israeli settlements, echoing Mr. Trump’s recent assessment that they were not “a good thing for peace.”
“They may not be helpful, and I think it makes sense to tread very carefully in that area,” Mr. Friedman said.
He also said he had agreed to sell off his business interests in the region.
While Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said he had accepted Mr. Friedman’s personal apology for saying that the organization’s members sounded like “morons,” not everyone was mollified. Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, said Mr. Friedman’s “many restrained and careful answers” and expressions of “regret” were not enough.
Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, said the selection of Mr. Friedman, “one of the strongest partisans on the issue,” sent a message that Mr. Trump was not interested in mending divisions over Israel.
“If that is really the intent of this administration, there are frankly a lot of other people who are better suited to play that role,” he said.