Will GOP oppose Biden’s pick for Israel ambassador over his involvement in Iran deal ?

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  September 12, 2023

Last week The White House announced that former US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew would be nominated to replace Tom Nides. Republicans are already expressing doubts about his commitment to Israel.

Last week The White House announced that President Joe Biden would nominate former US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew as his ambassador to Israel. The move is already being criticized by Republicans over Lew’s involvement in the Obama administration’s 2015 Iran deal.

Before Lew, who also served as former President Obama’s Chief of Staff from 2012-2013, was even officially nominated to replace outgoing Israel Ambassador Tom Nides, GOP congressional members began questioning his qualifications. On August 31 Reps. Claudia Tenney (R-NY), Max Miller (R-OH), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Carol Miller (R-WV), and Kat Cammack (R-FL) sent Biden a letter expressing “serious concern” over media reports that Lew might be picked.

“At a time when we should work on strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship, this nomination has the potential to strain relations with our strongest ally and the only democracy in the Middle East,” it reads. “We strongly urge you to ensure that any nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to Israel can and will improve relations between our two countries.”

In addition to Lew’s involvement in the Iran nuclear deal, the lawmakers also cite Lew’s past criticisms of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Obama administration’s decision not to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements. “Especially now, on the 75th anniversary of diplomatic ties between our two great democracies, it would be reckless and irresponsible to move forward with any nomination that could deteriorate relations between the U.S. and Israel,” concludes the letter.

A number of Republicans have echoed these sentiments since the nomination was made official.

A spokesperson for Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) told the Jewish Insider that he “has enormous concerns with the Biden administration’s campaign against our Israeli allies” and will “evaluate the nomination on that basis.”

Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) told the website that he opposes a quick confirmation process for nominees without “some changes with regard to policy with … Israel.”

In a Jewish News Syndicate op-ed GOP fundraiser Eric Levine writes that, “The Obama administration’s anti-Israel record is well known. There is no better example of this hostility than the JCPOA (the 2015 Iran nuclear deal). Lew’s support for it and his hostility towards Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are, on their own, entirely sufficient reasons to reject his nomination.”

This isn’t the first time Lew has faced hostility from hardline Israel supporters. While serving as Treasury Secretary in 2015 he addressed the annual Jerusalem Post Conference New York City, where he was greeted by booing and heckling. “No administration has done more for Israel’s security than this one,” he told the crowd to no avail.

“It was one of the surliest receptions ever accorded to such a high-ranking administration official by a Jewish audience in the United States,” reported Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev.

As Phil Weiss noted on this site at the time, “Lew never mentioned Palestine, ‘Palestinians, occupation, settlements, or even the two-state solution in his speech yesterday and still he got booed and heckled.”

Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen congratulated Lew on the nomination, calling him “a true friend of Israel.” The move has also been praised by pro-Israel Democrats, including Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer who said he was “precisely the person for the job of ambassador to Israel we need.”

The liberal pro-Israel group J Street put out a statement saying they were “personally thrilled” by Biden’s choice. “During his nomination hearing and once confirmed, we look forward to hearing from Secretary Lew about the steps the United States can take to meet this consequential moment in Israel’s history, and to create a more just, equitable and peaceful future for both Israelis and Palestinians,” it reads.

“I have had the privilege of calling Jack a friend for many years. His integrity, dedication, and wisdom have always been evident, and I have no doubt that he will bring those same qualities to his role as ambassador,” said Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) President and CEO Mark Mellman.

“Israel is a vital ally and partner to the United States, and the relationship between our two countries is of paramount importance,” he continued. “The secretary’s nomination is a testament to the Biden Administration’s deep commitment to strengthening this bond.”

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss