The US Senate has confirmed the Biden administration’s ambassador to Israel, a move that came after intense criticism from the White House charging Republicans with political obstruction in the face of war.
Jack Lew was confirmed by a thin margin on Tuesday but crucially saw no vocal Republican resistance to his nomination; the former Obama administration operative will be the US’s representative to Bibi Netanyahu’s government at a time when Israel is faced with responding to a brutal terrorist attack by Hamas and is the target of growing fury over the number of civilian deaths caused by its military in Gaza.
Mr Lew was never expected to see an easy path to being confirmed, thanks in large part to his work in the Obama administration as Treasury secretary and head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB); he was credited at the time as being a strong progressive who battled GOP efforts to cut Medicaid. But in the face of Israel’s conflict against Hamas militants in Gaza, Republicans found themselves unwilling to expend political capital to delay or thwart his nomination.
He was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday in a 53-43 vote.
Israel’s relationship with the US is currently facing its greatest test in years, for a number of reasons. The shocking terrorist attack earlier this month by Hamas militants was followed up by a massive air and ground-based assault by Israel’s military, which has been flattening areas of the densely-packed Gaza Strip with bombs and tanks. The US, with Joe Biden at the helm, has staunchly defended Israel’s government and the right of its nation to defend itself. At the same time, however, the president and others are known to be actively counselling Israel against a wider offensive, citing humanitarian concerns.
Meanwhile, the president faces growing criticism at home. Protests have erupted around the world, including in cities across the US, against the scale of Israel’s military offensive, and at the same time, there are legitimate and mounting concerns about the safety of Jewish people with anecdotal reports suggesting that antisemitic incidents are on the rise.
On the left, a number of Muslim-American Democratic activists are growing vocally dissatisfied with the Biden administration repeatedly affirming support for Israel while the civilian death toll climbs in Gaza, and have signalled that the president risks alienating Muslims by not supporting calls for a ceasefire.
Separately, US officials face other questions about the inability of Americans to leave the besieged Gaza Strip through the border with Egypt. American officials have accused Hamas of refusing to allow them to leave.
On Tuesday, the weight of the conflict was on full display. An Israeli strike on Gaza’s largest refugee camp was thought to have killed dozens of civilians; IDF officials said that the blast also killed a senior leader of Hamas. The immense civilian toll of the attack, however, drew scrutiny from US media outlets.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer: You knew that there were innocent civilians in that refugee camp, right?
IDF spox: This is the tragedy of war. We told them to move south.
Blitzer: So you decided to drop the bomb anyway.
IDF spox: We’re doing everything we can to minimize civilian deaths. pic.twitter.com/oAtW7jV0pc
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) October 31, 2023
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby was asked about the Israeli strike on the refugee camp at Tuesday’s White House press briefing but declined to comment stating that it was too soon for the US to take a position.