Jacob “Jack” Lew, the former U.S. treasury secretary, is being considered to replace Tom Nides as U.S. ambassador to Israel, Axios reported earlier this week, citing three knowledgeable sources.
Lew, 67, an Orthodox Jew, served as White House chief of staff in the Obama administration and as director of the Office of Management and Budget under both Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. He is the only candidate to have undergone a comprehensive background check, the Israeli news service Walla reported.
The White House and the U.S. State Department did not respond to JNS queries about whether Lew was under consideration. Asked in today’s State Department press briefing about Lew, Vedant Patel, principal deputy spokesman said, “I have no personnel updates to announce at this time.”
‘Just the one to do it’
Washington Jewish insiders praised Lew and his qualifications.
“Jack would be a great U.S. ambassador to Israel if chosen. He knows well the ways of Washington and he knows Israel,” Steve Rabinowitz, a longtime Washington media strategist and publicist and founder of Bluelight Strategies, told JNS.
“This is not an easy time, with America’s government leaders increasingly honest about Israel and Israel just as decreasingly so,” said Rabinowitz, a former White House director of design and production in the Clinton administration. “It’s no time for any old diplomat and Jack is just the one to do it. Others would also be good, even very good, but Jack would be great.”
Rabinowitz added that Lew knows U.S. President Joe Biden “very well” and knows “much of this Senate,” which wouldn’t make confirmation a shoo-in, “but it would be entirely possible.”
Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) and the movement’s main government relations official in Washington, as well as founder and rabbi of a Chabad synagogue in the District, has been friends with Lew for 30 years.
“Secretary Lew has many positive attributes. Perhaps most important, if this speculation becomes a reality, is his unique ability not only to be beloved by those who agree with him but enjoy the respect of those who might not,” Shemtov told JNS.
“His storied career and many successful achievements over his decades of service will probably factor significantly with whoever may be involved in making or ratifying the actual decision,” he added.
Iran deal defender
Lew has come under fire for defending the Iran nuclear deal, which he argued would make Israel safer, and for supporting Obama’s decision in 2016 not to veto United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which declared Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria illegal.
Rabbi Ezra Friedlander, founder and CEO of an eponymous firm, told JNS that neither Lew’s support for the Iran deal nor for the U.N. resolution would reflect negatively on his candidacy for the ambassadorship.
Friedlander met Lew during the Clinton administration and was struck by his “humble demeanor and his ability to bring people together,” he told JNS. “I believe the role of ambassador will suit him quite well.”
Reports of a potential nomination come as Washington is poised to hand billions of dollars over to Iran, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has slammed.
Jonathan Schachter, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East and former adviser to Netanyahu from 2013 to 2018, told JNS that Lew is “clearly somebody the White House knows well and trusts.”
“If he becomes ambassador, this comes at a time when Iran continues to advance its nuclear capability and the Biden administration considers sanctions relief as part of a deal to free American hostages,” Schachter said.
Lew’s prior support for the Iran deal would not reflect negatively on his nomination in Israel, according to Schachter. “Israel respects the choices of the president and would work closely with any ambassador that is appointed,” he said.