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Jack Lew, Orthodox Jew who led US Treasury, is Biden’s pick for Israel ambassador

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Under President Barack Obama, Jack Lew gained praise for fulfilling both his duties as secretary of the treasury and his obligations as an Orthodox Jew.

Now, President Joe Biden is asking Lew to complete a challenge that could be even harder: helping establish diplomatic ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Lew, 68, will succeed Tom Nides, who left the post in July, the White House announced Monday morning.

Lew declined a Jewish Telegraphic Agency request for comment last week, as his name solidified among a pack of people in contention.

Lew’s appointment must be confirmed by the Senate, which is led by a Democratic majority. He would be the fourth Jewish man in a row to serve in the role, following Nides, David Friedman and Dan Shapiro.

Lew, who also served as Obama’s chief of staff before leading the Treasury Department, has drawn words of support from Jewish leaders in Washington who pointed to his experience in public office, his skills as a negotiator, his involvement in Jewish life and his close relationship with Jewish organizations. 

“He’s a very thoughtful person, and has always been open and accessible,” said Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union.  “He has an encyclopedic knowledge of policy issues, starting with budgetary policy issues.”

As Lew’s anticipated nomination neared, he also drew criticism from right-wing activists. Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, wrote in a Jerusalem Post op-ed that Lew’s appointment would be “deeply concerning” because of his involvement in what Klein calls “the Obama administration’s hostility to the Jewish state and the Jewish people.” 

If he is confirmed, Lew will take up the post at a time of instability in Israel, which is contending with mass protests of the right-wing government’s actions to weaken the Supreme Court, in addition to a surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence. 

Alongside those issues, the Biden administration is pursuing an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia that, if reached, would mark a major foreign policy breakthrough in the region. U.S.-brokered negotiations over a potential accord are reportedly underway.

Here’s what you need to know about Lew, his career so far and the challenges he could face in the ambassador role.

He’s a negotiator who could bring his skills to diplomacy. 

Lew earned a reputation for resolving complex negotiations during his two stints as director of the Office of Management and Budget, under Obama as well as President Bill Clinton. The OMB director oversees funding for the vast federal bureaucracy and negotiates budgets with Congress. 

As OMB director in the last two years of Clinton’s presidency, Lew negotiated a balanced budget with the same Republican leadership that was seeking Clinton’s ouster for the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The talks succeeded: Clinton left office with a budget surplus.

As ambassador to Israel, Lew could use that experience in making a Saudi-Israel deal happen. The treaty would follow the agreements Israel signed in 2020 with several Arab countries, known as the Abraham Accords — but it would also be more complex. 

As described by Biden in July to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, the deal would involve stemming Saudi Arabia’s growing trade ties with China; a pledge that the United States will guarantee Saudi Arabia’s security; and the establishment of a Saudi civilian nuclear program along with the sale of advanced weapons systems. The status of Palestinians is also shaping up to take increased prominence in the negotiations.

That’s a lot of moving parts, and the ambassador to Israel would be key to reassuring the United States’ closest ally in the region that a deal would not endanger Israel.

“He really knows the issues inside and out,” Diament said. “You’re not going to pull the wool over his eyes, which is generally a good thing. But it also means you can come in and make the right kinds of arguments based on the facts and based on the situation, hopefully, you have a chance at having him on your side.”

Lew is also devoted to his bosses and knows when to stand firm. As OMB director under Obama, before he became the president’s chief of staff, he stood firm on protecting entitlement programs — Obama’s top priority — during talks with Republicans in 2011. Lew was furious with Republicans for what he believed was their lack of respect for the president, and in turn, earned the scorn of Republicans who called him the man who “can’t get to yes.”

Biden, who grew close to Lew during Obama’s second term — when Biden was vice president and Lew was Treasury secretary — could expect the same loyalty.

He’s used to defending controversial stances to the Jewish community. 

As Treasury secretary, Lew was tapped as Obama’s point man to explain — and defend — the Iran nuclear deal in the Jewish community. The deal, which curbed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, was bitterly opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A range of large Jewish organizations, along with Republicans in Congress, advocated against it. 

Lew had been involved in the issue for years. He oversaw the enforcement of sanctions that helped bring Iran to the negotiating table and used his knowledge of the deal’s particulars — as well as his intimate knowledge of the Jewish community — to pitch the deal to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, and others who were deeply skeptical

He was booed that year at the annual Jerusalem Post conference in New York when he defended the deal. A year after leaving office, and a year before President Donald Trump scuppered the deal, Lew was still defending it to a Jewish audience.

“The idea that somehow the Iran deal was not in Israel’s interest is something I disagree with,” Lew said in 2017 at a conference at Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies. “I think Israel is safer today than it was before the deal when Iran was genuinely approaching having a nuclear weapon.”

His continued defense of the agreement especially irks Klein’s ZOA, which accuses him of “shilling” for the deal. Lew “stuck to and trotted out every Obama administration line (and lie) to try to sell the Iran deal to the American-Jewish public,” Klein wrote in his op-ed.

William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Lew’s helpfulness to the Jewish community straddled multiple disciplines and that he “was always very attentive to the Jewish communal agenda.” He praised Lew for stanching funding to terrorists as treasury secretary, as well as for his efforts to aid Holocaust survivors or combat efforts to amend tax laws on charitable contributions.

Lew did not always see eye to eye with his Obama administration colleagues on Israel-related matters. In the administration’s final days in late 2016, Lew and Biden recommended vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning settlement building. In the end, the United States abstained, and the resolution went through. 

At the 2017 Columbia University conference, Lew said he understood the rationale behind the decision not to veto. Obama administration officials, he said, used the abstention to leverage a less toxic resolution — but he still regretted it.

“Personally, I wish the resolution hadn’t been there at all. I’m not happy that there was a resolution,” he said. “I’m also happy it wasn’t in its original form where we would have had to veto it, but then the rest of the world would have been voting for this even harsher condemnation.”

He’s an Orthodox Jew who doesn’t place his observance at the center of his public identity. 

Unlike Joe Lieberman, the Jewish former senator from Connecticut who was the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in 2000, Lew has not placed his Orthodoxy front and center in his political identity.

But he has not been shy about it either, and in 2012, he stumped for Obama among Orthodox Jews and routinely briefed Orthodox Jewish groups about administration policies.

Obama, nominating Lew in 2013 to be Treasury secretary, said he was drawn to Lew in part because of his faith. “Maybe most importantly, as the son of a Polish immigrant, a man of deep and devout faith, Jack knows that every number on a page, every dollar we budget, every decision we make has to be an expression of who we wish to be as a nation, our values,” Obama said.

Stumping for Obama’s reelection in 2012, Lew told JTA that the president earned his loyalty in part by respecting his faith.

“As a father who is at home and has dinner with his girls, he values that Shabbat is my time being with my family,” Lew said then. “I could not ask for someone to be more respectful and supportive, and that’s the reason it works.”

Lew has deep connections to Israel, including as a board member of NLI USA, the American support group for the National Library of Israel.

He likes to advise young Orthodox Jews to consider public service, but he counsels humility. “You can practice your faith openly, but don’t ever take it for granted,” he said in 2019 at a New York forum with Lieberman. “And keep in mind that accommodations are being made for you.” 

Lew was not the only candidate for the ambassador post with deep involvement in his Jewish community. Other names floated include Ted Deutch, the American Jewish Committee CEO who retired last year as  a Florida Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Robert Wexler, the former Florida Democratic congressman who now leads the Center for Middle East Peace and who was a close contender with Nides for the post in 2021. 

Also touted was Kathy Manning, the Democratic congresswoman from North Carolina who is a past president of the Jewish Federations of North America. She would have been the first woman ever to hold the post.

A favorite story about Lew’s Judaism involves his walk home from synagogue on Shabbat when he was Clinton’s OMB director, hearing the phone ring and letting it click through to the answering machine — only to hear a staffer for Clinton, who was in another time zone, relay the president’s apology. After an earlier call, Clinton realized he was disturbing Lew’s Sabbath and wanted to say sorry.

Lew has a mild-mannered sense of humor. When he was attending Beth Sholom, an Orthodox synagogue in Potomac, Maryland, a rabbi jokingly asked him to run for treasurer. Lew rejoined that running the OMB was challenging enough.

And in discussions of Israel, he has displayed diplomatic skills of a sort. In a debate with Tevi Troy, a former senior Bush administration official who is also Orthodox, at a Beachwood, Ohio, Orthodox synagogue during the 2012 campaign, someone asked both men which their candidate would prefer — shawarma or falafel. Troy said Mitt Romney would opt for shawarma. Lew said Obama would happily eat either.


The post Jack Lew, Orthodox Jew who led US Treasury, is Biden’s pick for Israel ambassador appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Victims of Oct. 7 Massacre Sue UNRWA for Funding Hamas, Giving Terrorists a ‘Safe Haven’ in Its Gaza Facilities

The bloodied aftermath of a kindergarten in Kibbutz Be’eri attacked by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. Photo: Reuters/Amir Cohen

More than 100 Israeli victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in southern Israel filed a lawsuit on Monday against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) for allegedly “aiding and abetting” the Palestinian terrorist organization and helping it carry out the massacre last year that killed more than 1,200 people.

The lawsuit claims that the UN organization dedicated solely to Palestinian refugees and their descendants has spent years “sending over one billion dollars from UNRWA’s New York bank account in Manhattan that defendants then caused to be delivered to Gaza in cash US dollars to benefit Hamas.” UNRWA allegedly laundered billions in donor cash to Hamas, “greatly reducing humanitarian aid provided to Gaza residents and playing a key role in the Oct. 7 attack.” MM~LAW LLC filed the lawsuit against UNRWA in US federal court in the Southern District of New York on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Both the Israeli government and watchdog groups have unveiled evidence purportedly showing that many UNRWA employees actively participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, assisted in kidnapping Israelis that day, tortured and hid Israeli hostages in their homes, aided in the transfer of Hamas weapons and trucks, and had other close ties to Hamas.

The UN has been probing the allegations in an ongoing investigation. In April, a UN spokesperson said that one case of an employee helping Hamas and its Oct. 7 onslaught had been closed and four others suspended, citing a lack of evidence.

Israel discovered that Hamas used UNRWA facilities in Gaza, including its schools, to run operations and attacks against Israel and to store weapons, both in and under UNRWA institutions. The Israeli military recently revealed that in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Hamas terrorists were found in UNRWA’s central logistics compound alongside UN vehicles. A group of 3,000 teachers working in Gaza for UNRWA even praised the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. UNRWA operates 183 schools in Gaza that are staffed by over 9,400 employees, according to the lawsuit

UNRWA schools have previously been accused of inciting antisemitism, terrorism, and hatred of Israel in the textbooks it distributes to Palestinians students.

The Israeli victims of Oct. 7 claim in their lawsuit that UNRWA “knowingly and intentionally” employed Hamas members and “knowingly provided material support to Hamas in Gaza,” including providing them access to UNRWA facilities and offering “safe havens for terrorists and their materiel.”

They accuse UNRWA of facilitating “construction of Hamas command and control centers, attack tunnels and underground bunkers under UNRWA headquarters, UNRWA schools, medical clinics, and offices.” The UN agency is also accused of turning its facilities into “prison cells to hold hostages,” as well as “military storage and deployment bases, including the storage and guarding over weapons, ammunition, explosives, and other military supplies, to be used by terrorists.”

UNRWA “collectively spent over a decade prior to the Oct.7 attack helping Hamas build up the terror infrastructure and personnel that were necessary to carry out the Oct. 7 attack, including by knowingly providing Hamas with the US dollars in cash that it needed to pay smugglers for weapons, explosives, and other terror materiel,” the lawsuit charges.

The UN organization also allegedly “permitted installation of rocket launching platforms and terrorist firing positions within and/or adjacent to UNRWA schools, medical clinics and offices, in violation of international humanitarian law.”

The case includes accusations about UNRWA implementing a tactic to further fund Hamas by paying its Gaza staff in US dollars rather than local currency, which is the Israeli shekel. The lawsuit states that although other large, local employers in Gaza pay their employees in shekels, UNRWA instead pays its local staff in US dollars and in cash. As a result, UNRWA personnel are required “to turn to Hamas-affiliated moneychangers” to exchange their cash dollars for shekels needed to buy things like groceries and other necessities.

“Hamas runs the majority of the Gaza moneychangers, and those are that are not actually run by Hamas are required by Hamas to pay Hamas a share of the fees they earn (often ranging from 10 percent up to 25 percent) for such exchange transactions, thus ensuring that a predictable percentage of UNRWA’s payroll went to Hamas,” the lawsuit explained. “Hamas uses the moneychangers to finance its military activities, and there are multiple examples in recent years of Hamas using currency exchange facilities in Gaza to finance its military activities.”

The lawsuit continued, “Hamas desperately needed the US currency itself. US dollars in cash form are vital to Hamas for purposes such as obtaining weapons on the international black market to be smuggled into Gaza and used for terrorist purposes, including the Oct. 7 attack.”

The plaintiffs said that because UNRWA’s actions in aiding Hamas “occurred in significant part” in New York — like trips taken by UNRWA personnel to the United Nations in New York City to secure funding from donor countries — the federal court in New York in which they filed their lawsuit has jurisdiction to making a ruling in the case.

Plaintiffs include not only victims of the attack but also families and representatives of those murdered by Hamas on Oct. 7. They demand a trial by jury and are seeking damages “in an amount to be proven at trial.”

The post Victims of Oct. 7 Massacre Sue UNRWA for Funding Hamas, Giving Terrorists a ‘Safe Haven’ in Its Gaza Facilities first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Hundreds of Israelis have been moving to Canada since Oct. 7—and a Hebrew website has been here to help

When Michal Harel and her family moved to Canada from Israel in April of 2019, they had a hard time getting settled. Between learning English, finding a home, acquiring work permits, and of course navigating the more restrained social norms in Canada, Harel and her husband, Avital Epstein, struggled to get their new life in […]

The post Hundreds of Israelis have been moving to Canada since Oct. 7—and a Hebrew website has been here to help appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Here’s What Has Happened on the Ground in Gaza Over the Past Month

Trucks stand at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, Egypt, April 25, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

The Israeli offensive in the Rafah area gradually took all the ground adjacent to the border between Gaza and Egypt. Over the past few days, there have been reports of Israeli forces now conducting attacks from the area taken northwards, both in the relatively open area between the city of Rafah and the coast and inside Rafah itself.

Many civilians in Gaza have moved to the safe havens allotted by the IDF. The resistance by the US government to the Rafah operation was based on the premise this would not happen. Just as in the previous IDF offensives in northern Gaza and the Khan Yunis area, the rate of evacuation is one of the factors determining the rate of advance of the IDF units.

During the clearing operations in each area taken, IDF units have uncovered hundreds of tunnels, including dozens crossing the border into Egypt. These tunnels were used for smuggling weapons from Egypt into Gaza, as well as civilian traffic — both people and goods. Officially the Egyptians destroy all tunnels they discover on their side of the border, but apparently, over the past few years, they have reduced this effort considerably — these tunnels all have large openings on the Egyptian side of the border, they are not small or camouflaged, and the traffic through them was not a trickle.

Rocket launchers and stocks of rockets were also found adjacent to the Egyptian border. Additionally, more evidence has been found in Rafah of Hamas’ use of UN sites and mosques.

The IDF has also continued to conduct raids into northern Gaza and Khan Yunis whenever concentrations of returning Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists are discovered, as well as raids into the Nuseyrat area, between Gaza and Nuseyrat. The Nuseyrat area is the only one in which the IDF has not yet conducted a major offensive operation.

In a much publicized raid on June 8, which was conducted by a Police Force special unit supported by the IDF, four hostages held in two separate private homes (one belonging to a news photographer who had published in Al-Jazeera) were rescued. An Israeli officer was killed in this raid, and a few others were wounded. The Palestinians, as usual, claimed enormous casualties to civilians living in the area of the raid. Again as usual, there is no evidence that the published number was anywhere near the truth.

Given similar events in the past — when numbers claimed by the Palestinians of hundreds of civilians killed by the IDF were later found to be grossly exaggerated, to have included many terrorists, and to have included Palestinians killed or wounded by Palestinian fire — the reliability of these numbers must be regarded as suspect.

Also found over the past few weeks were the bodies of a number of hostages killed on October 7 whose bodies were taken to Gaza, as well as a few who were kidnapped alive and then killed while being held. One more body was discovered inside Israel.

After spending an estimated $320 million on building a floating pier to provide humanitarian supplies, it seems the US will permanently dismantle it. It was incapable of withstanding the buffeting of waves, and broke apart once. The pieces were then towed to an Israeli port for repair and to await a calming of the sea. Afterwards it was returned to the Gaza coast, but when the sea conditions worsened again, the Americans pulled it out again. Because the IDF captured the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing, Egypt refused to continue sending humanitarian supplies through it. However, supplies increased through the other crossings between Israel and Gaza, thereby bypassing Hamas tax-collectors. According to posts published by Gazans on social media, this lowered the prices of commodities in Gaza.

On June 9, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNHCA) published a report stating that the claim that there is a famine in Gaza is not based on supporting evidence:

The FRC does not find the FEWS NET analysis plausible given the uncertainty and lack of convergence of the supporting evidence employed in the analysis. Therefore, the FRC is unable to make a determination as to whether or not famine thresholds have been passed during April.

They qualify that statement by claiming they are physically incapable of acquiring sufficient reliable evidence. However, photographs posted on social media by Gazans show that the real problem is less a matter of lack of foodstuffs and more an issue of inefficient distribution. The IDF spokesperson has reported that much of the supplies are simply being stored inside Gaza and awaiting distribution because the organizations in charge of distribution are incapable of meeting the rate of supplies flowing into Gaza. Furthermore, Gazans are complaining openly that Hamas is deliberately taking much of the supplies and hoarding them to sell at high prices to raise funds for its operations. They also complain of theft of supplies by criminal organizations for the same purpose.

Lebanon

In a speech given on June 19 by Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah, he claimed that:

Hezbollah has 100,000 troops all told and has therefore turned down requests by other organizations of the Iranian-led Shiite alliance to send contingents to Lebanon.

Hezbollah has the full panoply of weapons to conduct ground, air and sea combat, it manufactures weapons at home, and it is receiving weapons from Iran despite Israel’s attempts to prevent this.

He also claimed that Hezbollah has information that Cyprus has agreed to allow Israel to use its airports if Israeli airports are damaged by Hezbollah fire. He threatened that if Cyprus does this, it too will become a target of Hezbollah’s firepower.

This is not the first time Nasrallah has mentioned the 100,000 troops figure. This is considerably more than all previous reports, which ranged from a low of 45,000 to a high of 60,000. The previous occasion was in October 2021 when internal tensions in Lebanon threatened to boil over into a possible civil war. If he is speaking the truth, then Hezbollah has more men than the official Lebanese army (85,000). The Hezbollah forces are certainly better trained on average than the Lebanese army, and they are also better equipped in some areas.

The exchange of fire on the Israel-Lebanon border continues at a varying but fairly low intensity. Over the past few weeks Israeli attacks have escalated in the choice of targets, which are now no longer only near the border but also include Hezbollah installations in central and northern Lebanon. Hezbollah has responded by increasing the size of its rocket and exploding drone salvos into Israel. There are reports that to reduce casualties Hezbollah has withdrawn many of its personnel several kilometers north of the border and is conducting almost all its fire from a distance.

Hezbollah has admitted that so far 349 of its personnel have been killed (another 50 since my last report). This does not include non-Shiite members of Hezbollah who probably add at least a few dozen to the list.

In addition to the numerical increase in Hezbollah casualties, there has also been an increase in their ranks and importance. The commander and some senior staff members of one of Hezbollah’s three divisions in south Lebanon were killed, as were some senior staff members of another division.

Israeli casualties

The total number of Israelis confirmed killed on and since October 7, 2023, is now 1,609, with another approximately 16,500 wounded.

There are still approximately 116 kidnapped Israelis and non-Israelis in Gaza. How many are alive and how many dead is not known. In the negotiations with Hamas, Israel demanded a list of those alive and those dead, but Hamas refused. Furthermore, Hamas claims not to know the whereabouts of more than a few dozen of the hostages. Some are in the hands of other groups or even “private” clans who joined the assault on Israel in the third wave of the Hamas attack on 7 October. Thus, for example, the four Israelis rescued since my last report were all held in the private homes of “civilians.”

In addition, 19 Israeli civilians have been killed in Hamas rocket attacks and seven by Hezbollah.

As of last month, a total of 662 IDF soldiers have been killed (42 more than my previous report) on all fronts since and including October 7.

Palestinian casualties

The Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas in its role as the government of Gaza, claims that approximately 37,500 Gazans have been killed so far, and approximately 85,000 wounded. They do not differentiate between personnel of Hamas and other terrorist organizations and civilians, but according to the IDF, at least 15,000 Hamas and other terrorists have been killed. The IDF has also captured many terrorists, though the exact number has not been divulged. From anecdotal information it can be estimated at 3,000-3,500 (there have been no reports of major surrenders over the past month).

Given that Hamas and the other groups had 40,000-50,000 personnel between them (different sources provide different numbers, and there is a problem counting part-timers as opposed to regulars or official “reserves”), these numbers represent a sizeable chunk of their manpower. However, we have no information on the recruitment rate of new personnel, who are perhaps less trained but still add to the numbers. Hamas youth movements (equivalent to Boys Scout movements) conduct basic firearms training from an early age, so they have a recruitment pool of teenagers available to join the fighting.

Until early May, the UN claimed (quoting Hamas numbers) that of the nearly 35,000 Gazans killed in the war till then, 9,500 were women and 14,500 were children; i.e., approximately 68.5% of the killed. Suddenly, two days later, the UN approximately halved the numbers to nearly 5,000 women and 7,800 children; i.e., approximately 36.5% of the killed.

It should be noted that Israel has been consistently claiming its combatant/non-combatant ratio is one of the best and perhaps the best ever achieved by any army fighting in urban areas. These new numbers prove it. In fact, given that the term “children” includes anyone under 18 and that Hamas and the other organizations employ teenagers younger than that as combatants (15-18 year-olds), the ratio is in fact even better than these numbers show. Any civilian deaths are regrettable, but they are unfortunately inevitable whenever combat occurs where civilians are present. When one side deliberately uses them as human shields, this of course happens even more.

Dr. Eado Hecht, a senior research fellow at the BESA Center, is a military analyst focusing mainly on the relationship between military theory, military doctrine, and military practice. He teaches courses on military theory and military history at Bar-Ilan University, Haifa University, and Reichman University and in a variety of courses in the Israel Defense Forces. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

The post Here’s What Has Happened on the Ground in Gaza Over the Past Month first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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