In a significant move amid ongoing debate in Congress over funding for Israel in its conflict with Hamas, the Senate on Tuesday confirmed Jack Lew as the new U.S. ambassador to Israel.
The vote, which passed with a 53-43 margin, saw support from only two Republican senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. No members of the Democratic Caucus voted against Lew’s confirmation.
Bipartisan Support for Lew
In a statement defending his vote in favor of Lew’s confirmation, Graham acknowledged “legitimate concerns” surrounding Lew but stressed the importance of having a U.S. ambassador in Israel during these critical times. He also cited positive responses from Israeli government leaders regarding Lew’s appointment, stating, “The leaders I spoke with in the Israeli government both knew and were comfortable with Mr. Lew serving in this position. A vote for his confirmation was not something I took lightly, but given the circumstances, I believe it is the right call.”
Lew’s Background and Experience
Jack Lew, a 68-year-old with extensive experience in Washington, was expected to receive strong support from Senate Democrats, although the level of Republican support remained uncertain. Notably, he needed only a simple majority to secure his confirmation. The U.S. had been without a Senate-confirmed ambassador to Israel since July, with career diplomat Stephanie Hallett serving as the interim top official at the U.S. Embassy.
Confirmation and Past Controversies
Lew’s nomination advanced in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a 12-9 vote earlier this month. Paul was the only Republican on the panel who voted in favor of Lew’s confirmation, joining all Democratic members in support.
During his confirmation hearing, held in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, Lew emphasized the paramount importance of Israel’s security and identified Iran as a threat to regional stability and Israel’s existence.
While Lew had faced criticism from Republicans for his involvement in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, he strongly denied allegations that he had provided Iran with secret access to U.S. financial markets during that period. He argued that his actions had, in fact, prevented Iran from gaining full access to the global financial system.
Lew’s Pro-Israel Advocacy
Jack Lew, who is a member of the American Jewish community, brings a wealth of experience in advocacy and diplomacy related to Israel. He served as White House chief of staff during the latter part of President Barack Obama’s first term, and subsequently as treasury secretary from 2013 to 2017. During the Clinton administration, Lew played a role in developing a memorandum of understanding on multiyear U.S. funding for Israel. In the Obama administration, he worked to secure vital funding for Israel’s missile defense systems, aimed at protecting the nation from potential attacks.
Funding Debate Looms
Lew’s confirmation coincides with pending legislation in Congress that aims to provide substantial funding to Israel. The White House has proposed a comprehensive package that includes aid for both Israel and Ukraine.
However, House Republicans oppose combining the funding for both countries in a single bill, a stance likely to face resistance in the Senate.
Georgia Gilholy is a journalist based in the United Kingdom who has been published in Newsweek, The Times of Israel, and the Spectator. Gilholy writes about international politics, culture, and education.