WASHINGTON – Democrats are pushing back against comments made this week by David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, claiming that Republicans are more supportive of Israel than they are.

Friedman said that Democrats face a problem with a large American constituency that views Israel negatively, including those who seek to boycott, sanction and divest from the state. Pew Research Survey polling released earlier this year shows a substantial increase in support for Israel among Republicans over the past decade, and a marginal decline in support among Democrats.

A majority in both parties still view Israel in a positive light in the context of its conflict with the Palestinians, the poll found. But Democrats are more divided on the issue than are Republicans.

“The argument that I hear from some Democrats that Republicans are seizing the pro-Israel mantle is true, to a certain extent,” Friedman said in an interview with the Times of Israel website. “There’s no question Republicans support Israel more than Democrats. What the Democrats are not doing is looking at themselves critically and acknowledging the fact that they have not been able to create support within their constituency for Israel at the same levels that the Republicans have.”

Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, resented Friedman’s remarks and called them inappropriate.

“It’s outrageous that any American diplomat would wade into partisan politics as Ambassador Friedman has done,” Engel said. “I’d invite him to the Foreign Affairs Committee to see the lawmakers working hard to ensure support for Israel remains bipartisan. Diplomacy and partisan politics are incompatible. If Mr. Friedman doesn’t understand that, he should come home.”

Ron Klein, former congressman from Florida now chairing the Jewish Democratic Council of America, chastised Friedman for remarks that he said were “unprecedentedly partisan” coming from a sitting ambassador.

“Ambassador Friedman should spend more time cultivating the historically bipartisan nature of the US-Israel partnership, as opposed to being politically divisive in his words and actions, including his refusal to invite Democratic members of Congress to the Jerusalem embassy opening,” Klein said.