Last week, President Joe Biden nominated former Treasury Secretary Jacob J. “Jack” Lew to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. The nomination did not come as a surprise, as Lew’s name had been floated for the position for weeks. And with the exception of some Republican protest based on Lew’s involvement in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and some policy-related concerns, the nomination has been greeted with support and enthusiasm.
We agree. Lew appears to be the right person for the position. And he comes with a wealth of experience that will serve him well. In addition to his Treasury service, Lew was President Barack Obama’s White House chief of staff from 2012 to 2013, and a member of President Bill Clinton’s cabinet from 1989 to 2001. In both administrations he served on the National Security Council. His background and experience will lend diplomatic weight on a number of issues within Israel and in support of U.S. efforts to broker a deal with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
There is also another aspect to the nomination that is important. Over the past two years there has been concern that the Biden administration is drawing back from the Middle East or otherwise coasting on the U.S. relationship with Israel. That discussion increased following the election of the right-wing Netanyahu government even as the administration has sought to expand the Abraham Accords and engage in an array of regional issues. Now, with the nomination of a senior figure like Lew, the administration has shown the importance it gives to the ambassador position in Jerusalem, even amid tensions with the Netanyahu government.
It was therefore particularly nice to see the rapid and warm message from Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, following the announcement, in which he congratulated Lew on the nomination and recognized him as “a true friend of Israel and we expect to work with him in the spirit of our alliance that is based on shared values.” And even leading Israelis like Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. during the Obama administration who had disagreements with Lew, welcomed his nomination, saying “there is no questioning his commitment to Israel’s security, to the strength of the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance and to our common interests.”
We hope Lew’s confirmation process will be put on a fast track – notwithstanding the likely Republican opposition – since the U.S. needs an ambassador in Israel to deal with multiple issues, including navigating relations with the Netanyahu government, democracy and governance concerns in light of the judicial overhaul efforts, and an array of issues relating to the possible diplomatic mega-deal with Saudi Arabia that would include a normalization agreement between the Saudis and Israel. And of immediate concern, an experienced diplomatic hand can help manage the relationship between Biden and Netanyahu, which has cooled notwithstanding the fact that they have known each other for some 40 years.
We urge the Senate to act quickly on this important nomination. ■