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Republicans grill Biden’s Israel ambassador nominee Jack Lew in Senate hearing: ‘Win for Iran’

Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pressed President Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, Democrat Jack Lew, on his past work on Iran sanctions during a nomination hearing Wednesday. 

Several pro-Palestinian demonstrators protesting against Israel disrupted the first few minutes of the hearing. After they were escorted out, the meeting continued uninterrupted. 

Lew defended his record on the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and asserted he would work to advance a “negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“I want to be clear, Iran is a threat to regional stability and to Israel’s existence,” Lew said. “If confirmed, I will uphold President Biden’s commitment to deny Iran a nuclear weapon.” 

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In 2018, a Senate report by the investigative subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee found that Lew, during his tenure as secretary to the Treasury under the Obama administration, “granted a specific license that authorized a conversion of Iranian assets worth billions of U.S. dollars using the U.S. financial system.”

The report found that the administration tried to convert $5.7 billion from U.S. banks to Iranian assets. It noted that the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control “encouraged two U.S. correspondent banks to convert the funds.”

In January 2016, then-President Obama announced a $400 million cash transfer to Iran that was part of a larger installment of a $1.7 billion settlement, for which Lew faced scrutiny. The settlement was part of a long-standing disagreement over an arms deal that was signed before the 1979 Iranian revolution, signifying the end of the nation’s historical monarchy.

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Lew — who also served during the Clinton administration as special assistant to the president’s office — faced scrutiny for the transfer. The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that the payment was conducted using a combination of Swiss and other foreign currencies, then transported to Iran on unidentified cargo planes.

Senators during the hearing cited these reports in their questioning.

“As I said, to me, this whole thing is about Iran, and holding hands with Iran under the table doesn’t work for me,” Ranking Member Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho said. “And I’m deeply disappointed that you issued that license, deeply disappointed that you didn’t tell us about it, deeply disappointed that you misled us in July.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the committee, echoed Risch’s concerns.

“Your testimony is that you were not providing them access to the U.S. financial system. You then issued a special license, which is not published, maybe no one was supposed to find out about it, to help them gain access to the U.S. financial system, then asked banks to help convert the funds,” he said. 

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called out Lew’s record of voting in favor of the 2015 United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which declared Israel had “no legal validity,” and said Lew was “a critical player in the Obama administration’s campaign of appeasement with Iran.” 

“You played a pivotal role in flooding over $100 billion to the Iranian regime. The Biden administration has continued that policy flooding nearly an additional $100 billion to the Iranian regime,” he said. 

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When asked if he still believed Israel was illegally occupied territory, Lew said, “I do not believe that it is illegally occupied.”

“Why did you support a U.N. resolution saying that?” Cruz asked.

“I think that we could have a conversation about that, but it’s gonna take me more than 10 seconds to respond,” Lew said.

Days before the hearing, a handful of GOP senators began talks that they would oppose Lew’s confirmation, which Democrats on the committee say they want to push through quickly to show support for Israel. 

A vote will take place in a business meeting next week. If approved, Lew will have to be confirmed by the entire Senate.

Lawmakers have been critical of Iran over longstanding support for Hamas, which recently attacked Israel. The GOP has criticized Biden for approving the $6 billion deal Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages

The deal allowed the transfer of Iran’s frozen assets held in a South Korean bank to accounts in Qatar.

The administration said the money can only be used for humanitarian purposes and that the U.S. will have oversight as to how and when the funds are used. However, it quickly drew skepticism about whether those funds could have been used to fund the surprise attack in Israel after a bombshell Wall Street Journal report said Hamas and Hezbollah helped Iran plan the attack.

“Appointing Jack Lew as U.S. Ambassador to Israel would be a win for Iran,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told Fox News Digital on Wednesday. “As Treasury Secretary under President Obama, Mr. Lew was responsible for administering sanctions as a part of the dangerous Iran nuclear deal that he boldly championed. Now, as Israel faces an egregious attack from Iran-backed Hamas, we need to send a U.S. representative to Israel who will support our shared interests and strengthen our relationship. That representative is not Jack Lew.” 

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Fox News Digital on Monday evening that he will vote to oppose Lew during a confirmation vote if he proceeds to a full confirmation and that he will be leading an effort to persuade other GOP colleagues this week to block his confirmation.

“I know my Democratic colleagues contend that we should confirm Jack Lew properly to show our support for Israel, but I would turn that around. We should defeat Jack Lew’s nomination to show that our nation has a new policy towards Iran.” Cotton said.

A Senate GOP aide also told Fox News Digital Wednesday that a handful of Republicans are likely to oppose Lew, which would delay his expected confirmation. 

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