Who is Jack Lew? Biden’s Israel ambassador nominee prepares for confirmation hearing

In September, President Joe Biden nominated longtime Washington bureaucrat Jack Lew to serve as the US ambassador to Israel

Ariana Baio
Tuesday 17 October 2023 16:08 EDT

Israel-Hamas war: Explosion at civilian crossing between Gaza and Egypt

Jack Lew, a longtime Washington official who was nominated to be the next US ambassador to Israel, is expected to appear in the Senate chambers on Wednesday for his confirmation hearing.

Mr Lew, the former Treasury secretary and White House chief of staff during the Obama administration, was initially picked for the ambassador role by President Joe Biden in early September before the Israel-Hamas war began.

He was chosen to replace the former US ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides, after he stepped down over the summer.

But now more than ever, the role is pivotal in ensuring the US has direct and constant communication with the country that has become a close ally.

Here’s everything to know about Mr Lew.

Who is Jack Lew?

In the Clinton administration, Mr Lew, 68, was a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and became director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

While there, he drafted the initiative for AmeriCorps (Corporation for National and Community Service) as well as healthcare reform legislation.

Under former president Barack Obama, Mr Lew held a series of crucial positions like the White House chief of staff, director of the OMB, deputy secretary of state and eventually secretary of the Treasury.

US President Barack Obama leaves alongside Jacob Lew (L), his nominee for director of the Office of Mangement and Budget on 13 July 2010

As an Orthodox Jew, Mr Lew observed Shabbat while working in the White House and spoke openly about how his colleagues, including the presidents, were respectful of his lifestyle.

After leaving the White House in 2017, Mr Lew became a managing partner at private equity firm Lindsay Golberg LLC and a visiting professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University.

Despite a career of high-profile jobs that could have easily brought with it the public spotlight, Mr Lew is said to be a relatively lowkey person.

“He is known as a self-effacing, coolly efficient manager of policy without the sharp edges that have become increasingly common in politics,” one New York Times article described Mr Lew.

Notably, some may remember Mr Lew for his controversial signature during his time in the Obama White House. He was criticised for having an official signature that apparently was too loopy and resembled more of a scribble than an identifiable name.

“Jack assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency,” President Obama joked while announcing his nomination for Treasury secretary in 2013.

It’s difficult to ignore Mr Lew’s rare down-to-earth attitude when approaching politics and policies in an industry of inflated egos.

In a 2022 interview with Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Mr Lew described what he believed to be the right path when pursuing a career in policymaking – “aspiration and humility.”

“To me, the aspiration should be to have the privilege to work on the important issues of the day and the privilege is to be recognised for it and to get more opportunities and take the road where it leads you,” he said.

What has Jack Lew said about Israel?

While working in the Clinton and Obama administrations, Mr Lew helped develop a foreign aid package to provide Israel with funding for a missile defence system, according to The Associated Press. 

Mr Lew stirred controversy in 2015 for supporting President Obama’s original Iran Nuclear Deal and defending the former president against critics, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Washington Director, American Friends of Lubavitch; White Houe Budget Director Jacob Lew and Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, Director, American Friends of Lubavitch, take part in the annual national Hanukkah menorah lighting ceremony at the White House Ellipse December 01, 2010

However, Mr Lew has stated his support for a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine.

When asked about Israel in 2017, Mr Lew said: “I think that if one cares deeply about a stable, lasting, peaceful future for Israel, preserving space for there to be a negotiated two-state solution is critical.

“And I think unilateral actions that make that less likely to happen also diminish the probability of a long-term stable, secure future,” he added.

Should the Senate vote to confirm Mr Lew as US ambassador to Israel, he will surely be faced with a difficult task and a learning curve – given he has never served as an overseas diplomat.

But however difficult it may be, Mr Lew’s positive mindset may be one of his greatest assets.

Speaking with Columbia University, he said: “I find the ability to almost always make incremental progress, even in a difficult situation—something that makes me continue to be hopeful about bigger change in a positive direction in the future.”

“And when things don’t go the way you want, you can dust yourself off and get back into the fray and get things back on the right path and start to see progress again.”

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