WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has confirmed Jacob Lew as ambassador to Israel, filling the key diplomatic post as the country is fighting a war with Hamas.
Lew, a treasury secretary under President Barack Obama, was confirmed 53-43.
He has promised to stand side by side with Israel’s leaders as they respond to the militant group’s surprise attack on Oct. 7, telling senators in his confirmation hearing in mid-October that “at this moment, there is no greater mission than to be asked to strengthen the ties between the United States and the state of Israel.”
President Joe Biden nominated Lew, who goes by Jack, last month to fill the post left vacant when Tom Nides left as ambassador in July. Democrats say Lew’s wealth of government experience — he also was chief of staff to Obama and White House budget director under Obama and President Bill Clinton — makes him the right person to fill the post at a a critical moment in the two countries’ relationship.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said after Lew’s confirmation that the administration is eager for him “to get on the ground and start leading our efforts to support Israel and their fight against Hamas, but also to help us integrate and continue to lead the effort to get humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.”
Republicans criticized Lew for his role in the Obama White House when it negotiated the Iran nuclear agreement in 2015, among other foreign policy moves. The deal with Iran — the chief sponsor of Hamas — was later scuttled by former President Donald Trump.
“This is the wrong person at the wrong time in the wrong place,” said Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, just before the vote. “The last thing we need is somebody who is very contrary to our view about how Iran should be handled.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin, D-Md., said that Lew has won praise from Israeli leaders and has the gravitas to “stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel” as the United States partners with the country.
“There’s to me no question about his qualifications, no question about his presence being welcomed by our Israeli friends, no question about his knowledge and commitment to these issues,” Cardin said. “We could not have a more qualified individual to represent America as our ambassador to Israel.”
At the hearing, Lew defended his work in the Obama White House and called Iran an “evil, malign government.”
“I want to be clear — Iran is a threat to regional stability and to Israel’s existence,” Lew said.
He also expressed sympathy for the civilians on both sides who have been injured or killed in the fighting. It must end, Lew said, “but it has to end with Israel’s security being guaranteed.”
Lew, who is Jewish, said at the hearing that he cannot remember a time in his life “when Israel’s struggle for security was not at the forefront of my mind.”
Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani contributed to this report.