Jack Lew is a worthy choice for US ambassador to Israel - editorial

Jack Lew is a worthy nominee and a mensch and we look forward to welcoming him to Jerusalem.

US Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew
(photo credit: REUTERS)

On Tuesday, the White House announced that US President Joe Biden intends to nominate Jack Lew to serve as the next US ambassador to Israel.

If confirmed, Lew will be the most senior government official to serve as America’s ambassador to the Jewish state, having previously held three cabinet-level roles: Secretary of the Treasury, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and White House Chief of Staff. He will also be the third Orthodox Jew to hold the post.

The announcement has been received with general enthusiasm.

“Welcome, ambassador-designate Jacob Lew, as you have been nominated [to serve as] US ambassador to Israel, a country you know so well,” tweeted Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who went on to describe Lew as “a true friend of Israel” with whom he looks forward to working “in the spirit of our alliance that is based on shared values.”

“Jack Lew’s distinguished record of public service makes him an exceptional choice to be the next US ambassador to Israel,” said American Jewish Committee CEO Ted Deutch. “I look forward to working with him to advance the US-Israel relationship, strengthen Israel’s place in the world, deepen the Abraham Accords, and expand ties between Israel and the Arab world.”

US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (credit: REUTERS)
US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (credit: REUTERS)

Why do some object to Jack Lew?

At the same time, eight Republican members of Congress have written to Biden, calling on him to reconsider Lew’s nomination.

“At a time when we should work on strengthening the US-Israel relationship, this nomination has the potential to strain relations with our strongest ally and the only democracy in the Middle East,” wrote the legislators.

They cited Lew’s key role in formulating the controversial Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran nuclear deal.

“This deal, which failed to constrain Iran’s nuclear production, was one of the greatest US foreign policy disasters of the 21st century,” wrote the Republican lawmakers. “Despite the harm he has caused to American and Israeli national security, Lew is apparently being rewarded with an important ambassadorship.”

Indeed, Lew was the subject of significant criticism as the deal was being debated in 2015, when he was then US president Barack Obama’s treasury secretary.

Notably – and shamefully – he was booed and heckled by some audience members at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York in June of that year.

At the time, it was none other than human rights icon and then-Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky who came to Lew’s defense.

“I was very saddened, even embarrassed, when I heard that today Jack Lew was booed here,” Sharansky said as he took the conference stage.

He went on to describe a lesser-known part of Lew’s biography: his assistance to Soviet Jews as a young aide to Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill.

“He worked days and nights, taking families of Prisoners of Zion through all the corridors of power to make sure the Jews would be released,” said Sharansky. “Many Soviet Refuseniks owe their lives to him and others for the successful efforts to release them.”

Jack Lew is far from the only member of the Obama administration who advocated for the Iran nuclear deal – indeed, Biden did so himself, as Obama’s vice president. Biden is nevertheless regarded as a staunch and impassioned friend of Israel, as Lew should be. Lew has consistently promoted policies that have made the United States and Israel stronger and safer, from cutting off terrorist groups’ sources of funding to pushing (unsuccessfully) for a US veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning settlement construction, and has served as a key point person for the Jewish community in its engagement with successive Democratic administrations.

Lew has said that he believes the Iran nuclear deal made Israel safer. “The idea that somehow the Iran deal was not in Israel’s interest is something I disagree with,” he told a conference in 2017. “I think Israel is safer today than it was before the deal.”

While we disagree with his evaluation of the deal – which we believe was deeply and perilously flawed – we are confident that, if confirmed, he will serve his country with honor and will do his utmost to strengthen the US-Israel alliance.

Jack Lew is a worthy nominee and a mensch and we look forward to welcoming him to Jerusalem.