Tom Nides: The influential middleman between the US and Israel

No. 4 on The Jerusalem Post's Top 50 Most Influential Jews of 2022: Tom Nides, President Joe Biden's man in Israel

 Tom Nides, the influential US ambassador to Israel. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Tom Nides, the influential US ambassador to Israel.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

When US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides was a teenager, he visited the Jewish state with a Reform movement youth group, and the love and passion for the country that he developed on that trip have stuck with him in the ensuing decades.

In interviews and other public comments, Nides often talks not only of his commitment to preserving the “unbreakable” US-Israel relationship but also the importance he sees in ensuring that Israel retains its Jewish and democratic character.

Nides has been working toward that end. 

Since the 1990s, he has moved back and forth between politics and finance, and dealt with Israel-related issues whenever he was in Washington. During the Obama administration, as the No. 2 at the State Department, Nides was often in the position of peacemaker when things grew heated between the US president and then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Nides grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, as the youngest of eight children in a family that was not religious, but was involved in Jewish community life.

 US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York, September 12, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York, September 12, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

“My mother lit candles on Friday night; we went to temple a few times a year; and I had a bar mitzvah. We were culturally Jewish.”

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides

“My mother lit candles on Friday night; we went to temple a few times a year; and I had a bar mitzvah,” Nides has said. “We were culturally Jewish.”

Nides is married to Virginia Moseley, Executive Vice President of Editorial at CNN. The couple has two children.

US ambassador to Israel: A full-time job Nides actively lobbied for

When President Joe Biden was elected, Nides actively lobbied to be envoy to Israel. In fact, there was no other ambassadorship that he wanted.

Once again, he’s in the position of middleman between Washington and Jerusalem – and it’s his full-time job.

One of the first places he visited when he arrived was the kibbutz where he had volunteered. Later that day, he went to the President’s Residence to present his credentials to President Isaac Herzog, and was presented with another reminder of his youth: Herzog invited Nides’s Hebrew school teacher to the ceremony.

“I was panicked that she’d ask me to recite the Hebrew alphabet,” Nides joked at the time.

For Nides, a successful term as ambassador would mean “the continuation of the unbreakable bond between Israel and the US.

“I work for President Biden, who calls himself a Zionist and has said over and over again how important this bilateral relationship is,” he has said. “My job is to articulate that in good times and in bad times.... I take it quite seriously.”

Responding to the Israel-Palestinian conflict

In recent weeks, with a spike in Palestinian violence emanating from the West Bank, there have been some tensions between Israel and the US on how to respond, and Nides has had to deliver messages that Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz haven’t always liked to hear.

Nides addressed those points and others at The Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York this month.

For example, the State Department called on the IDF to reexamine its rules of engagement after its investigation found a soldier was likely to have unintentionally shot and killed Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

“We [in the US] are constantly reviewing our rules of engagement,” he explained. “I have done hundreds of events with the IDF, and they are a phenomenal military, so I am one who always hopes to continue to improve. Israel is a sovereign country and will make its own decisions.

“My heart breaks for Shireen’s family. The IDF concluded, as did we, that it was likely that the IDF unintentionally shot her. This is a dangerous place. She’s a reporter, my wife is a reporter. It’s difficult to do these jobs, but we need to make sure the media can cover these stories.”

Nides has also criticized Israel’s limitations on entry to Palestinian areas of the West Bank, such as academics invited to lecture at Palestinian colleges.

The ambassador explained that he spent a lot of time with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and is in constant coordination with them.

The US is “continually encouraging equal access to the West Bank, trying to improve that and, to the credit of the IDF, it’s not perfect, but we’re trying.”

Nides said the two-state solution is one of the main components of maintaining Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

“We need to send a message about the unbreakable security alliance between the US and Israel, the IDF and Defense Department,” he said. “Part of that is maintaining the vision of the two-state solution. And we spent a lot of time trying to keep that vision alive. We push all the time. We push the Palestinians... and we push the Israelis. There are agreements and disagreements.”

Nides on Iran nuclear talks

On the subject of Iran talks, which are likely on hold until November, Nides said, “Biden has made it clear he will not let Iran get a nuclear weapon.”

This is in light of recent talks surrounding the development of a new Iranian nuclear deal, which has been a source of tension for Israel on a consistent basis.

“The ball is in Iran’s court,” he claimed, adding that Biden has been very clear about this. “Ultimately, we believe the right thing is to have a diplomatic solution to this.”

Nevertheless, whether Israel likes the deal or not, the US will have “complete transparency” with Israel about the negotiations.

Biden's trip to Israel

Nides also praised Biden’s recent visit to Israel, saying he thought it was a “hell of a trip.”

“His holding the hands of Holocaust survivors at Yad Vashem, giving them kisses, showed his caring of Israel and this unbreakable tie we have,” he said.

Israel-Lebanon maritime border talks

Finally, discussing the recent Israeli-Lebanese maritime negotiations, Nides said the US will do everything in its power to keep the dispute from escalating.

“I do not believe Israel wants a military conflict with Lebanon, and I don’t think Lebanon or Hezbollah wants one with Israel,” he concluded. “We’re going to do everything we can do to keep that from happening.”