Former State Department official Thomas Nides is all but certain to be the Biden administration’s next ambassador to Israel after the other contender in the running, former congressman Robert Wexler, was notified by a congressional ally of the president on Friday that he would not be the pick, an ex-US official told The Times of Israel.
Two other sources familiar with the matter also confirmed that Wexler had been notified that the job would not be his.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter. Biden is expected to make an official announcement in the coming weeks.
Biden is slated to send senior diplomat Michael Ratney to Jerusalem next month to serve as the interim head of the US embassy in Jerusalem until a full-time ambassador is confirmed, a source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Thursday, confirming a story first reported by Axios.
Nides had been seen as the initial favorite for the position, but Wexler enjoyed a jolt of support in recent weeks from several Jewish organizations as well as lawmakers who reached out to Biden on the former Florida representative’s behalf, including Congress members Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Jerry Nadler and Senator Bernie Sanders.
Nides, for his part, was likely aided by his close ties with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and former president Barak Obama.
Both he and Wexler have familiarity with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Wexler particularly so, as he is currently serving as the head of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington.
Nides served as deputy secretary of state for management and resources in the Obama administration along with several other rolls in the State Department before becoming a managing director at Morgan Stanley.
Born in 1961 to a Jewish family in Duluth, Minnesota, Nides is a banking executive and if indeed picked, would bring both government and private-sector experience to the post.
As deputy secretary of state for management and resources, 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.”
Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren wrote in his book “Ally” that in 2011, Nides had argued passionately against congressional efforts to defund UNESCO after the body admitted Palestine as a member state.
“You don’t want to fucking defund UNESCO. They fucking teach the fucking Holocaust,” Oren quotes Nides as having told him.
Reflecting on the heated encounter in an interview with The Times of Israel, Oren clarified that he viewed Nides as a friend of Israel and a “very funny guy.”
“That’s been quoted as an example of an anti-Israel bent for Tom Nides. It’s not like that. That’s the way they talk,” Oren said.
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.
Nides also serves on the board of many nonprofits, including the Atlantic Council, the International Rescue Committee, the Partnership for Public Service, the Urban Alliance Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Woodrow Wilson Center.
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.