After delay, Senate confirms Biden nominee Nides as ambassador to Israel

Day after blocking Democrats from fast-tracking diplomat-turned-banker’s nomination, Republicans forgo their objections, allowing Nides to be confirmed via voice vote

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Thomas Nides at a meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan on April 4, 2012. (AP/Anjum Naveed)
Thomas Nides at a meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan on April 4, 2012. (AP/Anjum Naveed)

The Senate confirmed former deputy assistant secretary of state and longtime Democratic party operative Thomas Nides to be the Biden administration’s ambassador to Israel Wednesday, after a drawn-out nomination process that some feared could continue to drag on.

Nides was confirmed in a voice vote on the Senate floor after Republicans lifted their objections to the nomination.  A day earlier, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) prevented Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) from fast-tracking the confirmation process via unanimous consent vote.

On Thursday evening, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) brought the nomination once again to the Senate floor and it passed overwhelmingly in a voice vote. There was no immediate word on why GOP lawmakers chose to change course.

The confirmation will draw an end to a nearly 10-month period in which the US had no ambassador to Israel, after David Friedman stepped down in January. Former Jerusalem consul general Michael Ratney has been running the US Embassy in Jerusalem as interim chargé d’affaires since June.

US President Joe Biden formally tapped Nides for the position in June, and while the 60-year-old wasn’t seen as a controversial candidate, the nomination — along with dozens of others — became another victim of Washington’s partisan politics, with Democrats accusing Republicans of prolonging the process.

Friedman, former president Donald Trump’s ambassador to Israel, was seen as a far more controversial pick, given his support and ties to the settlement movement. The vast majority of Democrats voted against his nomination in a floor vote, which they forced. But he was still confirmed four months after being nominated. It took the Senate four and a half months to confirm Nides.

US President Biden’s Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 22, 2021. (Screen capture/Senate Foreign Relations Committee)

A Democratic aide told The Times of Israel that the party feared the confirmation process might drag on for several more months after Hawley’s move. Democratic lawmakers and several pro-Israel groups lambasted Republicans for putting US foreign policy interests at risk by holding up the nomination.

Nides will be stepping into the sensitive post at a particularly charged juncture, amid a disagreement between the US and Israel on Biden’s plans to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem that deals with Palestinian affairs. The consulate was closed by Trump when he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, placing the Palestinian affairs unit under the embassy and drawing anger from Ramallah. It also comes as tensions with Iran have risen with negotiations on returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, opposed by Israel, set to resume.

Among the first to congratulate Nides was his counterpart in Washington, Israeli Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan. “Amb. Nides, I wish you much success in your role and a fruitful tenure at the US Embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem. I’m sure that you will further strengthen the special bond between Israel and the US,” the Israeli envoy tweeted.

The former United States Consulate General building in Jerusalem, March 4, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Nides is a former deputy secretary of state for management and resources, who most recently served as managing director and vice-chairman of Morgan Stanley.

While he doesn’t have the same Israel-focused background as some of the previous US ambassadors, Nides is no stranger to the issue either. As deputy secretary of state, Nides built effective working relationships with several Israeli officials and played a key role in the Obama administration’s approval of an extension on loan guarantees for Israel worth billions of dollars.

He also helped carry out Obama’s policy against congressional efforts to limit US support for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNWRA) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

In 2012, Nides sent a letter to the US Senate’s Committee on Appropriations, arguing against legislation that sought to distinguish between Palestinians displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948 and those refugees who are their descendants, reducing the number of refugees from 5 million to just 30,000 (the Trump administration toyed with similar measures). Nides wrote that the legislation would undermine American ability to act as a peace mediator, “and generate very strong negative reaction from the Palestinians and our allies in the region, particularly Jordan.”

A recipient of the secretary of state’s Distinguished Service Award, Nides was reportedly considered by Hillary Clinton as White House chief of staff had she won the 2016 election. He has longtime relationships with both Biden and Obama. He also served as former senator Joe Lieberman’s campaign manager when he ran for vice president in 2000.

Nides serves on the board of many nonprofits, including the Atlantic Council, International Rescue Committee, Partnership for Public Service, Urban Alliance Foundation, Council on Foreign Relations and Woodrow Wilson Center.

Nides was born in 1961 to a Jewish family in Duluth, Minnesota. His father, Arnold Nides, was the president of Temple Israel and the Duluth Jewish Federation, as well as the founder of finance company Nides Finance.

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