Former US secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew is the Biden administration’s top candidate to be the next ambassador to Israel, multiple sources confirmed this week, following a report in Axios.
Others are still being considered, such as American Jewish Committee CEO and former congressman Ted Deutch and ex-president of Jewish Federations of North America Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), but Lew is the front-runner.
Should he become the nominee, Lew will also have to go through a confirmation process in the Senate. That would likely take place less than a year before the 2024 election, and he may face attempts by Republicans to block the nomination. Still, the Biden administration prefers to try their luck in the Senate in order to have a formidable ambassador in place as they advance Israeli-Saudi normalization efforts.
Lew is close to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and, should he become ambassador, would likely have the president’s ear.
Who is Jack Lew and where does he stand on Israel?
Lew, 67, is one of the few Orthodox Jews to have served in the US cabinet. He speaks Hebrew, has relatives in Israel, and is an active member of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx, in New York City.
Before being appointed Treasury secretary, Lew was White House chief of staff for then-president Barack Obama and director of the Office of Management and Budget under Obama and former president Bill Clinton.
Those roles put him in contact with the top echelons of Israel’s government on a variety of issues during the tense Obama administration years. As Treasury secretary, Lew took part in the talks to reach a 10-year memorandum of understanding for US aid to Israel and sanctions on Iran.
In a 2017 interview at Columbia University, Lew lamented that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “identifying on a partisan basis [with Republicans] when for most of the past 70 years there was no question that both parties could be pro-Israel” and called Netanyahu’s 2015 speech before Congress opposing the Iran deal a “provocation.”
Lew also said he doesn’t think Israel should be reliant on US vetoes in the UN Security Council, defended the 2016 decision not to veto a UNSC condemnation of settlements, and pointed out that the Obama administration had always opposed settlements.
In addition, Lew said that “if you care, as I do, about having permanent security for a democratic state of Israel, there is no pathway other than a two-state solution. The more you hear talk about a one-state solution, the more it means it’s not a democratic state. That is not the Israel that I want for my grandchildren to love.”
Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren, who wrote Ally, a book that was very critical of the Obama administration’s approach to Israel, nonetheless heaped praise on Lew on Tuesday, calling him “amazing, brilliant, a mensch…an excellent choice.”
Oren described Lew as someone uniquely prepared for the challenge of being ambassador to Israel when there are tensions between Washington and Jerusalem.
“He maintained open ties with the Netanyahu government in a time that ties were very strained,” Oren said. “I was in many meetings between Jack and the prime minister where they respectfully disagreed but kept communications open.”
Oren added that Lew “was a person I could go to during times of tension. He was always calm. He was unflappable… He is irreproachable, a calmly charismatic human being and a great public servant to the US, who is also passionately committed to Israel and the US-Israel alliance. It doesn’t get better than that.”
Multiple Israeli officials who worked with Lew in the past had only positive things to say about his intelligence, sensitivity, and competence, but would not speak on the record before his nomination is made official.
One official noted Lew’s Orthodoxy and strong Jewish communal ties, saying that they made him more understanding of Israel and Israelis.
Lew is currently a managing partner at Lindsay Goldberg, a private equity firm in New York, and was a visiting professor at the School of International and Public Affairs of Columbia University in recent years.
The ambassadorial position opened up when Tom Nides left at the end of last month, citing the long separation from his family as the reason.