President Biden announced on Tuesday that he would nominate former Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew as his next ambassador to Israel, tapping a low-key Washington veteran for a high-charged post at a time of friction with America’s strongest ally in the Middle East.
If he is confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Lew will head to Jerusalem even as Mr. Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are at odds over the president’s efforts to negotiate a new nuclear agreement with Iran and the prime minister’s plans to rein in the authority of the judiciary in Israel.
Mr. Biden has sought to smooth over the rifts with Mr. Netanyahu by inviting him to visit the United States, an invitation the president had declined to issue for months. But no schedule or venue for such a meeting has been disclosed, and tensions remain high, particularly as Mr. Netanyahu pushes ahead with his bid to dilute the power of the courts in defiance of Mr. Biden’s advice and amid huge protests at home.
At the same time, Mr. Biden has embarked on a high-stakes diplomatic gamble to broker normalized relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, a move that if successful could transform the power dynamics of the region. Mr. Biden’s envoys have been negotiating with the Saudis while keeping the Israelis informed about the progress, but the challenges for reaching such an accord remain daunting.
Mr. Lew, who goes by Jack, has served in some of the government’s most important posts under multiple administrations with a genial, workmanlike style that earned him many admirers across the aisle and few if any enemies. In a town of colossal egos, he is known as a self-effacing, coolly efficient manager of policy without the sharp edges that have become increasingly common in politics.
In addition to running the Treasury Department for President Barack Obama, Mr. Lew was also Mr. Obama’s White House chief of staff, deputy secretary of state and director of the Office of Management and Budget. Mr. Lew first served in the budget director post under President Bill Clinton.
The ambassadorship will present a new challenge to Mr. Lew, who has never served as an overseas diplomat. As Treasury secretary, he often negotiated with foreign counterparts, but his previous stint at the State Department was focused on management and resources rather than diplomacy.
He is set to replace Thomas R. Nides, another former deputy secretary of state, who stepped down over the summer to return home to his family. His wife, Virginia Moseley, who is the executive vice president of editorial at CNN and one of those who has been running the network after the ouster of its chief, had remained in the United States throughout Mr. Nides’s tenure in Jerusalem.