A friend who ‘won’t go easy on Israel’: Thomas Nides, Biden’s Jerusalem envoy

Jewish banking executive has decades-long government experience; described as firmly pro-Israel, he has objected to congressional attempts to limit UNRWA, UNESCO

Thomas Nides, testifies to the Senate foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 20, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Thomas Nides, testifies to the Senate foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 20, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

US President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as ambassador to Israel is a banking executive and former deputy secretary of state with a political background spanning almost four decades, and has been described as both a friend of Israel and as an envoy who will likely be evenhanded and “won’t go easy” on the Jewish state.

The White House on Tuesday announced the nomination of Thomas Nides. He will still need to make it through a Senate confirmation hearing, but no significant opposition is expected to Nides — a lesser-known figure than previous ambassadors.

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.

The banking executive has been married since 1992 to Virginia Carpenter Moseley, senior vice president of newsgathering at CNN. They have two children.

He entered politics as an intern for former US vice president Walter Mondale and later served as field director in Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign. In 1986-1989 he worked for House of Representatives majority whip Tony Coelho, and then for House speaker Tom Foley until 1993.

During Bill Clinton’s administration, Nides served as chief of staff for Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, helping pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Then-Deputy Secretary of State Thomas R. Nides, center, talks to South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, right, as US Ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim listens during their meeting at Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, February 29, 2012. (AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man, Pool)

He served as former senator Joe Lieberman’s campaign manager when he ran for vice president in 2000. Lieberman, then a Connecticut senator, was Al Gore’s running mate and the first Jewish candidate on a major party presidential ticket.

Nides served as deputy secretary of state for management and resources from 2011 to 2013, and most recently served as managing director and vice chairman of Morgan Stanley.

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.

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.

He has longtime relationships with both Biden and former US president Barack Obama and close ties with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Nides is no stranger to US-Israel relations and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 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).

US Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, right, and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee on December 20, 2012. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

In 2012, Nides sent a letter to the US Senate’s Committee on Appropriations, arguing against legislation that sought to distinguish between Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948 and their descendants — who are also recognized by the UN as refugees — reducing the number of registered 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 f***ing defund UNESCO. They fucking teach the f***ing Holocaust,” Oren quotes Nides as having told him.

View of the site of the US Embassy in Jerusalem ahead of its inauguration, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.

The Ynet news site quoted an unnamed Israeli who knows Nides as saying: “He is a warm Jew, a friendly person, pro-Israeli — but will still be a loyal representative of Biden’s policy and won’t go easy on Israel.”

If he is confirmed, it will be the second time in three administrations in which a native of the Duluth Jewish community lives in the ambassador’s residence, wherever that may be. Obama ambassador Dan Shapiro’s wife Julie Fisher is also from Duluth.

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