Biden nominates Democrat political veteran Jack Lew as new Israel envoy
US President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated former treasury secretary Jack Lew as ambassador to Israel, tapping a veteran political player with close ties to the Jewish state at a turbulent time between the allies.
Lew, an Orthodox Jew who observes the weekly sabbath, will play a key role in managing the relationship as Biden attempts to broker a potentially historic deal for Saudi Arabia to recognise Israel.
The nomination comes after a spike in tensions with Biden openly criticising an overhaul of the judiciary by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in what critics say is a threat to democracy by the most right-wing government in Israel's history.
Lew will need confirmation from the Senate, where Biden's Democratic Party retains control but Republicans ahead of the 2024 US election could fight against the nomination.
In a formal statement, the White House cited the "distinguished career in public service" of Lew, who has served in successive Democratic administrations.
Under Barack Obama, Lew -- a trained lawyer -- served as treasury secretary and earlier as White House chief of staff, director of the Office of Management and Budget and as a deputy secretary of state to Hillary Clinton.
David Makovsky, a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that Lew, while more of a budgetary than foreign policy expert, would be the first former cabinet secretary to become ambassador to Israel.
"Having him there is a signal by the president that he greatly values the bilateral relationship and that he wants someone of stature," said Makovsky, a longtime friend of Lew.
"It's going to come at a difficult time," he said.
Lew would succeed Thomas Nides, another veteran Democratic political operative who made headlines with his unusually blunt language on Netanyahu's judicial reforms.
Nides cited personal reasons as he left the position. His wife is a senior executive at CNN who remained in the United States during his tenure.