Biden Picks Former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew as Ambassador to Israel

Biden Picks Former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew as Ambassador to Israel
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew speaks at a Center for American Progress forum on "fostering a small business economy with opportunity for all" in Washington on Oct. 13, 2016. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden has unveiled the nomination of former Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew to serve as his next U.S. ambassador to Israel, the White House announced on Tuesday.

Mr. Lew, a New York attorney who served as Treasury secretary for President Barrack Obama from 2013 until the administration’s conclusion, would succeed Ambassador Tom Nides, who bid the position farewell over the summer after serving the role for two years.

“Today, President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate Jacob J. Lew to serve as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the State of Israel,” the White House said in a statement.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Lew will take on the post amid a politically complicated U.S.–Israel relationship as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is pushing through a judicial overhaul that the Biden administration opposes.

Additionally, the United States is pushing to secure diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia—two of the biggest Middle East powers and longtime rivals. A formal normalization agreement has the potential to reshape the region and boost Israel’s standing in significant ways. However, brokering such a deal is a heavy lift as the kingdom has said it won’t officially recognize Israel before a resolution to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The effort to strengthen that relationship comes after the Trump administration helped facilitate the “Abraham Accords,” normalizing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco.

President Donald Trump also suggested while still in the Oval Office that he expected Saudi Arabia to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel in the near future.

“I’m sure you’ll see Saudi Arabia there very soon,” President Trump said at the time. “I really believe that will happen too, and very good relations with Saudi Arabia, and so you’ll see something very special.”

Support and Opposition

Mr. Lew’s nomination was met with mixed reactions, as several Republicans voiced concern over the Obama-era aide being named envoy to Israel.

“At a time when collaboration between the United States and Israel is of utmost importance, we need an ambassador that works to reaffirm our nation’s unfailing support for Israel,” Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) said in a letter (pdf) to President Biden.

Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.)
Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) in a still from a video. (NTD)

“We need an ambassador who can engage with Israeli leadership, and Jack Lew has proven he is the wrong man for the job,” she added. “President Biden must nominate an individual who is able to enhance our critical bond and partnership, especially given the Biden administration’s already chilled relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

The joint letter, signed by eight members of Congress, highlighted several key areas of concern regarding Mr. Lew’s nomination, most notably his support of the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement that was nixed by President Trump in 2018.

In 2015, Mr. Lew was booed while defending the deal during a Jerusalem Post conference in New York, arguing that the agreement made Israel safer, The Times of Israel reported. His speech did not play well with pro-Israel supporters and the Democrat was heckled while he spoke in favor of the deal.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, meanwhile, congratulated Mr. Lew’s appointment as U.S. ambassador to Israel—a “country you know so well.”

“We look forward to working with you in the spirit of our close cooperation and alliance,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Mr. Lew is currently a managing partner at private equity firm Lindsay Goldberg and a visiting professor at Columbia University in New York. A spokeswoman for Mr. Lew said he did not have any immediate comment on his nomination.

Democratic Majority for Israel President and CEO Mark Mellman said Lew would come to the posting “well-versed in the intricacies of international relations and the pressing issues facing Israel and the U.S.-Israel alliance.”

He also currently serves as chairman of the board of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, co-president of the board of the National Library of Israel USA, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr. Lew has also previously served as managing director and chief operating officer for two Citigroup business units. He was executive vice president and chief operating officer of New York University and a professor of public administration at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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