Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel, on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., on Oct. 18, 2023.
Leah Millis | Reuters
WASHINGTON — Former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was confirmed by the Senate Tuesday to serve as President Joe Biden’s ambassador to Israel at a critical time for the enduring U.S.-Israel alliance.
The final vote was 53 to 43, closer than some expected. Only two Republican senators, Lindsay Graham R-S.C. and Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted with all Democrats to confirm Lew.
“Israel’s back is against the wall and time is of the essence. Now more than ever, the United States needs an Ambassador in Israel, Graham said in a statement after the vote.
Despite “legitimate concerns” about Lew, Graham said his recent trip to Israel convinced him to vote for Biden’s nominee.
“The leaders I spoke with in the Israeli government both knew and were comfortable with Mr. Lew serving in this position,” said Graham.
Lew, 68, served as treasury secretary in the Obama administration, and as White House budget director in two Democratic administrations.
“When my colleagues and I met with the Israeli government, we promised to send an ambassador as soon as possible. And today, the Senate has kept that promise,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said on the Senate floor after the vote.
A lot has changed in Israel in the nearly two months since Biden nominated Lew on Sept. 5. A surprise attack by Hamas Oct. 7 left more than 1,400 people dead in Israel, nearly all of them civilians.
In response, Israel vowed to destroy the militant group. Over the past three weeks, Gaza has been under near constant air strikes by the Israeli military.
The Palestinian Health Ministry reports more than 8,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the Hamas-Israel War. Earlier this week, Israel began a new phase in its military operation, a ground offensive into Gaza.
Speaking at his Senate confirmation hearing Oct. 18, Lew said Israel’s security was a “paramount” concern for the United States.
“I will do my utmost to end the horrific attacks by Hamas and to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself,” he told the senators, “and I will spare no effort in working to help American citizens now captive to return home safely.”
The United States has been without a Senate-confirmed ambassador to Israel since July, when Tom Nides departed the post. Stephanie Hallett, a career diplomat, has served in the interim.
“Israel’s back is against the wall and time is of the essence,” Graham said. “Now more than ever, the United States needs an Ambassador in Israel.”