OpinionColumn

Jack Lew’s nomination as US ambassador to Israel should be rejected

Ironically, his very impressive résumé is also what disqualifies him. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with then-Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, June 18, 2014. Photo by Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy via Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with then-Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, June 18, 2014. Photo by Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy via Flash90.
Eric Levine
Eric Levine
Eric R. Levine is a founding member of the New York City law firm Eiseman, Levine, Lehrhaupt & Kakoyiannis, P.C. He is an essayist, political commentator and fundraiser for Republican candidates with an emphasis on the U.S. Senate.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden announced Jack Lew as his nominee as ambassador to Israel. The Senate should refuse to take up the nomination and then reject it if it does.

Before ever starting any confirmation hearings, the Senate should assert its oversight role and constitutional prerogative. It should demand transparency from the Biden White House on the status of the Iran nuclear deal. And it should demand a full explanation of why Robert Malley, America’s chief negotiator of that deal, had his security clearance revoked.

There is no more important issue facing Israel and America’s national security interests in the Middle East than a nuclear Iran. To make an informed decision about the Lew nomination and his qualifications, the senators need all the facts about negotiations with Iran. If the White House will not be transparent, the nomination should not even be considered. However, no one should expect that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will care about these issues. The nomination will go forward.

Lew’s résumé is indeed impressive. He served as former President Barack Obama’s chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget. He had a successful private sector career at New York University and Citigroup before he joined the Obama White House.

Ironically, his very impressive résumé is also what disqualifies him. His willingness to lie to the American people, Congress and Israel about the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in addition to some highly questionable and never fully explained business transactions while in the private sector, are quite troubling.

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.

Lew was one of the members of the Obama/Kerry cabal sent out to affirmatively lie to Congress, the American people and U.S. allies in the region about the terms of the deal. Like Obama and Kerry, Lew did not blink when he told crowds in America and Israel that the JCPOA blocked all of Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon; that the JCPOA required anywhere/anytime inspections of nuclear sites; and that Iran would use the sanctions relief to build schools, roads and other infrastructure (NOT to fund its military or terrorist activity) and would cause the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism to normalize and moderate its behavior. Every one of those statements was a lie.

In his speech at the Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in June 2015, Lew declared: 

To be clear, sanctions were always a means to an end. They were designed to help bring Iran’s leaders to the table to negotiate a serious agreement on its nuclear program. And while we will not know until the process is completed whether there will be an agreement, there is no doubt that our sanctions worked to bring Iran to the table, prepared to make serious concessions.

Of course, the point of sanctions was NOT to bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program. Lew was grievously wrong about that. Sanctions were instead designed to bring Iran to its knees because of its nuclear program until it gave up that program. When Obama became president in 2009, the international community had declared it illegal for Iran to enrich any uranium. Obama caused the United Nations to lift that restriction. In doing so, Obama set Iran on a legal path to a nuclear weapon. That is the essence of the JCPOA.

Skipping over that nicety, Lew went on to tell his Jerusalem audience:

That brings us to the framework for a final agreement—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—which we reached in Switzerland in early April, a framework that is the basis of a good, comprehensive deal. It meets our core objective: blocking each of Iran’s pathways to a bomb. … At the same time, as the framework lays out, the final deal will be built around an incredibly robust and intrusive inspections regime on Iran’s nuclear program. … We will be inspecting and monitoring Iran’s nuclear sites and, importantly, supply chains. Uranium mines, uranium mills, centrifuge production sites, assembly and storage facilities, the purchase of sensitive equipment—all will be under penetrating surveillance.

Unfortunately, Lew failed to tell his audience that Iran’s military sites were totally off-limits to inspections. It did not take much imagination to figure out where Iran would develop its nuclear program.

Lew saved his two biggest whoppers for later in his speech.

As the JCPOA relates to Iran’s ability to obtain a nuclear weapon, Lew assured his audience: “[W]e will have blocked all four of Iran’s pathways to develop a nuclear weapon.” As we now know, the JCPOA did the precise opposite. It created a legal path for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.

Lew’s patronizing comments about how Iran would use the $150 billion in sanctions relief are particularly insulting:

[T]he idea that Iran’s economy will instantly recover if a deal is reached is a myth. … Iran’s priority—as expressed with the election of President [Hassan] Rouhani—is to address those domestic needs first: fixing its budget, paying for infrastructure upgrades, increasing imports, and shoring up the rial. Reserves that would be released are far less than what Iran requires to address all of these needs.

No one believed for a minute that Iran would use the money it received from sanctions relief for “domestic needs” unless one defined domestic needs to include building a nuclear weapon, funding the military, underwriting Iran’s international terrorist network and financing Iran’s hegemonic goals in the region. At a minimum, Lew must apologize to the American people for lying to them about such a crucially important national security issue.

In contrast to conciliation and kindness towards Iran’s president, Lew has a history of contempt for Netanyahu. An American ally, particularly one as close and important as Israel, deserves a friendly ambassador who has the ability to work with its top head of state to advance the two nations’ common goals. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that Lew will be able to work collaboratively with the prime minister of our closest ally in the world.

On the record, Lew called Netanyahu’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal a “provocation.” How a prime minister’s effort to defend his nation against a second Holocaust is a “provocation” remains a mystery. The better question is: Who was provoking whom?

Lew’s distaste for Netanyahu continued after serving in the White House. When asked during an appearance at Columbia University in 2017 about the Israeli leader’s address to a joint session of Congress in which Netanyahu criticized the JCPOA, Lew described the prime minister’s conduct as “beyond the pale.”

Lew was executive vice president and chief operating officer of New York University and a professor of public administration in the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU. As The New York Times reported in 2013, when Lew was being considered to be Obama’s Treasury secretary, he received what NYU officials described as “unusual” payments from the university. He received a $685,000 severance payment even though he left voluntarily. Severance packages are typically paid to employees who are fired. In addition to his $700,000 to $800,000 salary, he also received mortgage loans of about $1.5 million through NYU, of which the university forgave almost a third over time.

What makes these payments particularly suspicious is Lew’s later job at Citigroup. While there, he helped negotiate a $2 million settlement with New York’s then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo over Citigroup’s role as a preferred lender to students at NYU and other colleges. Cuomo alleged that Citigroup paid kickbacks to NYU in exchange for the university directing its students in need of financial aid to seek loans from Citigroup. Citigroup was an NYU preferred lender. The kickbacks were paid while Lew worked at the university. Given his senior role at NYU, it is difficult to believe that he did not know about the scheme. Moreover, it is not beyond reason to think that the settlement he negotiated with New York State for Citigroup was designed not just to limit the financial institution’s exposure, but to cover up NYU’s and his role in the kickback scheme.

This is a particularly relevant line of inquiry for the Senate to follow given the Biden Administration’s unconstitutional and illegal effort to forgive student debt. Did Lew personally benefit from the kickback scheme? Are American taxpayers being asked to foot the bill for billions of dollars in student loan forgiveness while Lew was rewarded handsomely for potentially illegal activity?

When Lew was asked about these issues by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley during his 2013 confirmation hearings, he responded:

I do not recall having any conversations with Citigroup officials regarding Citigroup’s selection or actions as a preferred lender for N.Y.U. students. … Also, I do not believe that I approved the selection of Citigroup as a preferred lender for N.Y.U. students.

Lew’s answer begs all the important questions. Was he aware of the scheme? Did he speak with NYU officials about it at the time? When he says “I do not believe that I approved the selection of Citigroup,” is he saying that maybe he did approve Citigroup? He says he did not “officially” approve it but maybe he told others to do it. He never denies benefiting from the kickbacks. All these questions remain unanswered.

Lew is a poor choice. His nomination should be rejected.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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