The U.S. Senate on Tuesday backed President Joe Biden’s nominee, former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel, despite Republican objections over his past dealings with Iran.
The Senate voted 53 to 43, largely along party lines, with Biden’s fellow Democrats backing Lew and most Republicans opposing him. Lew needed only a simple majority in the 100-member Senate to win confirmation.
Democrats had pushed to fill the vacancy at the embassy in Israel quickly in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel from Gaza by Iran-backed Hamas militants.
Republicans sharply criticized Lew over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal sealed during former Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration. They criticized Lew’s work while in Obama’s cabinet to implement the agreement with a country that is a sworn enemy of Israel.
Supporting Lew, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, who chairs the foreign relations panel, noted Lew’s qualifications and said Israel had welcomed his nomination.
“I would hope my colleagues would vote for his confirmation recognizing that we could not have a more qualified individual representing America as our ambassador to Israel,” Cardin said.
Urging “no” votes, Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he wanted to support Israel but felt Lew had mishandled dealings with Iran by giving it access to U.S. financial markets. He called Lew’s selection “very disappointing.”
Republicans – and some Democrats – objected to the international nuclear pact, in which Iran agreed to halt its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Republican former President Donald Trump, who took office in 2017, pulled Washington out of the pact in 2018.
Washington has not had an ambassador to Israel since July, when Tom Nides left the post. Biden nominated Lew in September.