Shortly before finishing his post, Thomas Nides, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Israel, sat down with Adam Bellos in a wide-ranging, tell-all interview about his service as envoy to what he called America’s “most important friend—certainly in the Middle East and, I would say, in the world.”
Experience as ambassador
Shocked by how deeply everyone in Israel truly cares about the country, Nides found the job very complex, and it was a challenge to get things done. His greatest accomplishments, he thinks, are good relationships with three prime ministers—Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid and Benjamin Netanyahu—delivery of better living conditions for Palestinians while protecting the State of Israel and promotion of the Abraham Accords.
“This is a much bigger deal than many ambassadorships are just by the nature of what you’re representing,” he said. Israel is like “no other place like this in the world,” he added.
Israel “encompasses everything. This is a religion. It’s a culture. It’s an emotional connection,” Nides said.
He added that it was important not to take himself too seriously on a personal level. “You can’t take yourself so seriously in these jobs,” he said. “I mean, come on. You’re here today, gone tomorrow. The job is great. It’s enjoyable. It’s important. But it’s not about me. I’m happy to be here for a period of time. I’ll try not to screw things up.”
Policy on antisemitism
The exchange grew somewhat heated when Bellos said he did not like U.S. President Joe Biden’s new policy on antisemitism because it didn’t address antisemitism on the left. He mentioned Islamophobia several times without mentioning anti-Zionism.
Nides shot back that Bellos was the first person that did not like the report, and that this is the first time in history that a U.S. administration used such a vast amount of resources and money to deal with antisemitism. The report was not perfect, but “I am not looking for nirvana. I’m just looking to be sensible,” he said.
Iran and diplomacy
Bellos questioned Nides about Biden’s policy of enriching the Iranian regime and re-entering negotiaions. Nides laughed. “No one’s gonna suggest that Joe Biden [and] this administration is here and propping up the Iranian regime. That’s your wine speaking.”
Asked whether people could trust American red lines in the region, Nides said Biden has been very clear. “He’s not going to stand by and let the Iranians get a nuclear weapon,” Nides said. “Superpowers don’t bluff, and we don’t bluff.”
Bellos questioned why the Biden administration decided to refund United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), even if it had yet to reformed its textbooks. A 2023 study found that UNRWA textbooks still contained antisemitism, glorification of martyrdom and encouragement to violence against Israelis.
“UNRWA plays a very important role, especially around refugees,” Nides said. “Someone’s got to step in and do this. Okay, if there’s not UNRWA, guess who’s going to be doing this? Israel, okay. And the last time I checked that are not really anxious to do this.”
“Don’t throw the baby out with bath water,” he added.
Nides reacted to those, who say that democracy is ending in Israel due to the judicial reforms advocated by the current Israeli government.
“What are you talking about? Look what’s going on here,” he said. “Fifty to 230,000 people have come out every Saturday, which would be the equivalent of 6 million to 7 million Americans coming to the mall” in Washington, D.C.
“There’s been no violence,” he added. “No one’s been arrested, no property damage. And arguably, it’s worked. It’s gotten people to slow down and look and to determine.”
“Where is another country like this in the world? Even the United States, we haven’t been able to do that yet,” he added. Americans misunderstand that Israel is a true melting pot of diversity, he added.
Bellos asked Nides about his approach to the job, and how his ability to talk with everyone got him into trouble in the past.
“I’m a liberal guy. Liberal Jew from Minnesota. I’m the youngest of eight kids. I’m a secular Jew, but I came here with a very open mind, which was I want to meet everyone,” he said.
He cited marching with former Israeli Ambassador to the United States David Friedman in the 2023 March of the Living as one of his greatest accomplishments.
“There’s very little I agree with David Freeman politically,” he said. “I think ultimately that is part of who I am, because I like people. I want to hear from people, regardless if I agree with them or disagree with them.”