With war in Gaza raging, Senate confirms Jack Lew as new US envoy to Israel

WASHINGTON (October 31, 2023)—The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Jack Lew as the new U.S. ambassador to Israel. The move comes amid the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East as war rages between Israel and Hamas.

The vote for confirmation was 53-43, with all Democrats, two independents and just two Republicans—Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina—supporting Lew.

"Mr. Lew has a strong, long, proven record as a strong public servant and ferocious ally of Israel, and it will help send a powerful message of support to Israel to have this appointment filled ASAP," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said on the Senate floor.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in Senate remarks called Lew "eminently qualified."

"He has the political acumen that we need for our ambassador at this time. He has the respect of the Israeli officials," Cardin said.

"After meeting personally with Jack Lew, I found him to be a thoughtful individual who will strive to do his best to represent the United States in Israel," Paul said in a statement reported via X. "I also believe it to be important to have an ambassador during the current crisis in Israel."

Lew has had a decades-long record of public service. He was the treasury secretary in the Obama administration, where he also earlier served as President Barack Obama's chief of staff, as well as the director of the Office of Management and Budget under both the Clinton and Obama administrations.

The Senate hasn't had a U.S. ambassador to Israel since July, when Tom Nides left the position.

Lew has also been a managing partner at Lindsay Goldberg LLC, co-president of the board at the National Library of Israel USA, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Biden nominated Lew in early September. After the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel by Hamas, Cardin and other Democrats pressed to speed up Lew's confirmation.

Many Republicans objected to Lew's nomination, pointing out his role in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal under the Obama administration.

"Frankly, I don't think that (the nomination) either sends a message to Israel or anyway in the Middle East that we are serious about taking on and dealing with the threat that Iran poses because obviously he was the architect of the Iranian nuclear deal," Sen. John Thune, R- South Dakota, told reporters just before the vote.

"We negotiated with Iran to have them rollback their nuclear program in exchange for which they would get access to money that was their money that we had frozen," Lew said during his confirmation hearing. "All we did was facilitate that transaction."

Lew, who is Jewish, said to the senators: "I want to be clear, Iran is a threat to regional stability and to Israel's existence."

The confirmation comes as Congress looks to address how to provide funding in support of Israel.

"We need to provide the medical needs, safe passage for Palestinians trying to avoid the conflict," Cardin said. "All this is made much more difficult because of Hamas. These challenges require a U.S. partnership. We need a confirmed ambassador."

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