Jacob Lew, Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, is questioned by senators | ET REALITY


When President Biden visited Israel on Wednesday to pledge U.S. support in its fight against Hamas, his nominee to fill the notably empty U.S. ambassadorship to the country faced Republican opposition at home.

The appointment of Jacob J. Lew, who served as Treasury secretary during the Obama administration, was announced last month but has gained urgency since Hamas attackers massacred at least 1,400 Israelis on October 7. The attacks prompted Israel to launch an intense bombing campaign against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

But despite pleas from the Biden administration and top Democrats to quickly confirm Lew, most Republican senators on the Foreign Relations Committee expressed opposition to his confirmation, arguing that he was unfit for the job because of his previous work on a multinational agreement to stop Iran’s advance. nuclear ambitions.

“We need this to be filled. The problem I have is that it needs to be filled by the right person,” Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the panel’s top Republican, said during Lew’s confirmation hearing Wednesday. He accused Lew of acting in “what I think was an indirect way of supporting Iran.”

As Treasury Secretary, Lew played a key role in negotiating and promoting a deal that eased sanctions on Iran’s nuclear sector in exchange for Tehran agreeing to limits on its nuclear enrichment and related activities. But Republicans accuse Lew of lying to lawmakers at the time about how the deal would be implemented, particularly regarding access to previously frozen funds for Iran, which they believe Iran used to create proxy terrorist groups that pose a threat to Israel. , including Hamas.

Republican opposition is not expected to kill Lew’s candidacy. Democrats, who expressed their support, have a majority on the panel. But he could complicate efforts to get his proposal passed quickly on the Senate floor by forcing Sen. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, to use time-consuming procedural maneuvers to prepare for a vote.

Israel has lacked a Senate-confirmed American ambassador since Thomas R. Nides left office in July. Schumer and other Democrats have warned that continuing to leave the seat empty would be detrimental to the United States’ ability to support Israel.

“Delaying him would be egregious at a time like this,” Schumer said Tuesday of Lew in the room, adding that the candidate was “a fierce ally of Israel.”

Lew attempted to show his pro-Israel bona fides on Wednesday, telling senators about his Jewish family’s Zionist roots and listing his efforts as Treasury secretary to impose and enforce sanctions against both Hamas and Iran.

“I can’t remember a time when Israel’s fight for security was not on my mind,” Mr. Lew said. And he added: “Iran is a threat to regional stability and the existence of Israel. If confirmed, I will uphold President Biden’s commitment to deny Iran a nuclear weapon.”

But his remarks did little to deter Republican senators.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., accused Mr. Lew of keeping secret from Congress a license that would have allowed Iran to convert funds held in a bank in Oman into euros, and put pressure on banks around the world. to do business with Tehran, citing the findings of a 2018 report by Republicans on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., accused Lew of acting as a banker to the Iranian government by brokering deals to release funds in exchange for American prisoners.

“The massive influx of cash was ultimately a direct deposit into Iran’s terrorist account,” Barrasso said.

Lew argued that he had strictly adhered to the terms of the agreement easing nuclear-related sanctions, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and frustrated officials in Tehran by refusing to go further.

“They complained that my actions were what prevented them from gaining full access to the global financial system,” he said. “We made the JCPOA charter, nothing more.”

If confirmed as ambassador, Lew will begin at a time of heightened fears that the conflict between Israel and Hamas could engulf the region, potentially even drawing in U.S. forces.

“Preventing this from becoming a multi-front war is enormously important for Israel, for the region and for the world,” he said. He added that one of his top priorities would be to bring home Americans believed to be held hostage by Hamas. According to the State Department, at least 13 Americans are missing, but it is unclear how many are hostage.

However, Lew admitted that longer-term goals, such as the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia and an eventual two-state solution with the Palestinians, would likely have to wait until hostilities subsided.

He also promised that he would do everything possible to ensure that civilians in Gaza receive humanitarian assistance, drawing a distinction between them and Hamas militants.

But he resisted Democrats’ efforts to urge Israelis to exercise restraint.

“This is not the time for us to lecture Israel about what to do,” Lew said, adding that Israeli officials knew they had to conduct the war “in a way that is consistent with minimizing the impact on innocent civilians.” .”

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