Ever the Diplomat    – Mishpacha Journal

Ambassador Tom Nides was busy with conferences one Sunday morning a couple of weeks in the past when his private telephone rang.

On the display screen flashed a reputation that till just lately would have merited a right away response from Israel’s prime minister himself.

“Yanky Kanievsky” learn the show. Rav Chaim’s well-connected grandson had a last-minute request for the American diplomat.

“Tom, we’re giving out 4,000 meals parcels in Bnei Brak at this time — are you able to come and pack some packing containers?”

Bowled over by the Eleventh-hour timing, Nides responded: “You do know that my schedule is organized weeks prematurely, don’t you?”

However Yanky, as he’s extensively recognized, was having none of it. He produced his trump card.

“It could have meant lots to my grandfather,” he stated.

That, certainly, clinched the deal. Tom Nides picks up an enlarged picture of his personal assembly with the gadol, which rests within the nook of his workplace at america embassy in Jerusalem.

“I informed my employees, ‘Clear my schedule — we’re going to Bnei Brak to pack packing containers.’ ”

Nides continues to be chuckling over the episode a day later after we sit down for a pre-Rosh Hashanah interview, however as turns into clear, the anecdote is greater than mere opening gambit. That’s as a result of Tom Nides is convivial, he exudes a sure empathy, and appears genuinely inquisitive about individuals — notably the exotica of the chareidi world.

“I’ve gone to Bnei Brak many occasions now to be taught in regards to the chareidi neighborhood,” he says. “I’ve met most of the rabbinic leaders, and whereas I don’t perceive the whole lot, I see the significance of household, custom, and learning.”

Over the past yr, he’s parlayed these qualities into an ambassadorial model — half diplomatic, half studying course of — that entails engagement throughout Israeli society.

The Jewish ambassador has develop into a notable fixture at that saddest of Jewish occasions — the shivah. By means of a terror-soaked yr, Nides has visited 15 shivah homes, turning as much as consolation households up and down Israel.

“I sat with the households after the Elad terror assault, and I went to a Druze household in Nazareth, the place I noticed firsthand how terror impacts everybody.”

That empathy has performed effectively with Israelis. Extra controversially for a lot of on the nation’s proper, Nides has damaged together with his Trump-era predecessor, Ambassador David Friedman, making outreach to the Palestinians a precedence.

That tilt was apparent when Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist protecting a counter-terror operation in Jenin, was shot in Could, below unclear circumstances. A State Division report pre-judged an Israeli investigation, saying that it was probably that the Al-Jazeera reporter had been killed by an IDF bullet.

The US embassy adopted up with a name for a overview of Israel’s guidelines of engagement, the general public nature of which carried overtones of a dressing down.

However inevitably, Tom Nides offers as a lot with what lies over the horizon — Iran — as with the Palestinian-Israeli battle that performs out in sight of his workplace home windows.

And even because the Biden administration seeks to carry again the Obama-era Iran Deal from the lifeless — towards an Israeli consensus that the settlement is weak — Nides is adamant that this time round, Israel gained’t be ignored within the chilly.

“Each possibility is on the desk,” he says, reiterating the administration’s place on navy motion. “America won’t ever bind Israel’s palms when it must act, even after a deal.”

These are Obama-era slogans rewarmed for the post-Trump epoch, with a touch of the third means that Biden has carved out on Israel.

As Tom Nides wraps up his first yr within the embassy that bears the title of his boss’s nemesis Donald Trump, the previous funding banker has introduced a surprisingly private contact to the job.

It’s additionally clear that for the brand new occupant of “David Friedman’s workplace,” as Nides jokingly calls his workspace, what’s previous is prologue within the altneuland of America’s Israel coverage.

Giving Again

A framed copy of Tom Nides’ native newspaper — the Duluth Information Tribune — sitting on the workplace windowsill betrays the ambassador’s origin in small-town America.

Born in 1961 in Duluth, Minnesota, a Midwest port metropolis, as certainly one of eight siblings, the longer term ambassador’s mother and father had been energetic within the native Jewish neighborhood. Tom’s father Arnold was a president of the Federation and the native Reform temple, and mom Shirley headed the department of Hadassah.

“We had been cultural Jews, not spiritual ones, however being Jewish was in our bones,” Nides says. “I went to the Temple for the Excessive Holidays and I used to be bar-mitzvahed, and the primary time that I got here to Israel was at 14 years previous, once I climbed Masada and was turned on by the thought of being a Jew.”

That usually mid-century secular Jewish expertise is what offers Nides his honest if bromide-laden worldview.

“I’m a cultural Jewish man, which implies giving again, kindness, and caring for different individuals. That’s what I attempted to do within the personal sector, utilizing the cash that I made to assist others. And clearly in authorities I attempt to do the identical factor.”

Nides’ twin profession in finance and authorities is testomony each to his native skill and the form of symbiotic relationship between private and non-private sectors frequent in Washington.

An early curiosity in politics noticed a teenage Nides invite then–vp Walter Mondale to talk at Duluth East Excessive Faculty’s commencement. Submit-college, Nides reduce his enamel on political campaigns, serving as Midwest area director for Mondale’s 1984 presidential run, earlier than happening to spend time as a congressional aide.

Nides’ work on the NAFTA free-trade settlement — the last word poster-child for the Washington liberal consensus — below the Clinton administration was adopted by an intermittent profession in finance, taking in federal mortgage supplier Fannie Mae, plus stints at Credit score Suisse and Morgan Stanley.

His spouse’s place as an government at CNN is extra proof of the insider circles that Nides mixes in. (That relationship, plus Nides’s evident royalism, is the rationale that all through our interview, the flatscreen on the wall is taking part in CNN’s protection of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral).

From 2010, Nides was again in authorities, serving as deputy secretary of state for administration and sources below the Obama administration. Declining a task in Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated 2016 presidential marketing campaign, he joined Group Biden in 2021 because the president’s nominee for ambassador.

“It’s uncommon for somebody to be as lucky as I’ve been to get to work on the high of presidency and the personal sector,” Nides displays. “It’s an infinite honor to have the ability to use a mixture of each my authorities abilities and my enterprise abilities as ambassador.”

Individuals Overseas

The strict safety protocols that govern the Jerusalem embassy stop us from photographing the black-and-white portraits of earlier ambassadors that line the entranceway to Nides’s workplace, however one factor — a peculiarity of the America-Israel relationship — is evident.

In contrast to most different diplomatic postings, the place the ambassador needn’t conform to the host nation’s traditions, it’s now virtually a on condition that America’s Israel ambassador is Jewish — the query is just which taste. Successive ambassadors now appear to point which a part of the US Jewish neighborhood is at the moment near the White Home.

It was the colourful Philadelphia-born Warder Cresson — Tom Nides’s first diplomatic forebear — who started the custom of Jews within the ambassador’s residence. Cresson arrived in Jerusalem in 1844 as the primary United States consul to the Holy Land, earlier than changing to Judaism as Michael Boaz Yisrael ben Avraham.

After Israel’s institution, diplomats with names like Macdonald, Barbour, and Keating had been the norm. However issues modified (or reverted to the Cresson mannequin) this century, when a string of Jews obtained the job: first Martin Indyk, then Dan Kurtzer, after which Dan Shapiro in 2011, adopted by David Friedman, Nides’s speedy predecessor.

Tom Nides is raring to emphasize the continuity between his Orthodox predecessor David Friedman and himself.

“My first week right here, I known as David. I’ve had lunch with him a number of occasions, and have huge respect for him,” Nides says. “David and I each care deeply about sustaining Israel as a democratic Jewish state. We could have variations in how we preserve that proper, or what we emphasize, seeing as I lean into serving to the Palestinian individuals greater than David’s view, and we’ve got totally different views on settlement progress, however we’re each dedicated to the safety of the State of Israel.”

Collegiality apart, the hole between Trump’s and Biden’s respective envoys is a yawning chasm each in phrase and deed.

Because the face of Donald Trump’s new Israel coverage, Friedman pushed for the administration to defund UNWRA, the UN company ostensibly devoted to serving to Palestinians, however that has been accused of perpetuating the refugee downside.

“The US has thrown greater than $10 billion in humanitarian help to the Palestinians,” Friedman stated in 2018, “with out bringing the area nearer to peace even by a millimeter.”

Distinction that with Nides’s frequent help for the Palestinian trigger, couched within the language of democracy and social justice.

“Sustaining the democratic Jewish state means ensuring that we’re caring for the Palestinian individuals and never dropping sight of the two-state resolution,” he says. “You will be pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. Once I get up and attempt to assist Palestinians with training and well being, I’m not making a political assertion. It’s a humanitarian query.”

Whereas an Israeli consensus has lengthy advocated working to enhance financial situations for peculiar Palestinians for causes of humanity and international coverage, in at this time’s Democratic Occasion, whose chief Nides represents, the pro-Israel a part of the equation is in retreat.

Democrats’ more and more jaundiced view of Israel extends far past the hatred peddled by members of the far-left Squad resembling Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.

In Could this yr, whereas Israel was below heavy rocket assault from Gaza, 25 Home Democrats signed a letter calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to sentence the evictions of Palestinians from houses in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood that stood on Jewish-owned land.

Ambassador Nides, although, rejects the assertion that Israel’s trigger is falling out of favor within the Democratic Occasion.

“This concept that someway Israel has develop into extra partisan is ridiculous,” he responds. “Have a look at the vote to fund the Iron Dome — I feel we misplaced simply seven votes within the Home of Representatives. And in Joe Biden, we’ve got a Democratic president who got here right here final month in the past and stated, ‘You don’t want to be a Jew to be a Zionist.’

“That would have come from a Republican. It may come from a Democrat. It comes from anybody who cares about Israel.”

 Left Behind

These are courageous phrases, however America’s ambassador can learn the runes, and he’s anxious in regards to the form of tomorrow’s Democratic Occasion.

As a proud Reform Jew who’s a staunch Israel supporter, Nides will concentrate on the unhappy actuality that a few of the fiercest anti-Israel rhetoric now comes from the ranks of the heterodox Jewish actions’ younger guard.

Exhibit A in that rising development was the Could 2021 open letter signed by 100 college students on the numerous non-Orthodox rabbinical seminaries accusing Israel of “violent suppression of human rights” — that, as Israel was below intense rocket hearth from Gaza.

Requested whether or not he’s involved by each developments, Nides responds, “I’m not anxious by Israel help now, however in ten to twenty years’ time. It’s everybody’s job to teach the subsequent era.

“Hear,” he continues, “I feel what’s happening in school campuses is a major problem. I’ve stated it time and again to leaders of the Jewish neighborhood, from the heads of the Hillel to neighborhood leaders, that we want a Marshall Plan for faculty campuses in America.”

The issue, he contends, is certainly one of messaging. “We have now to assist individuals perceive why Israel exists, why this nation is below menace on a regular basis. We have now to determine what strikes college students, and we’ve got to teach.”

The difficulty with Nides’s proposed resolution — “Israel working arduous to be as inclusive as doable” — is that it entails Israelis doing the heavy lifting. That, when a lot of the issue is clearly certainly one of younger Jewish progressives who more and more situation their help on Israel being original of their picture.

Going Ballistic

When the shaky video footage emerged of the loss of life of a journalist in Jenin in early summer time, the media onslaught wasn’t lengthy in coming. Israel was enduring its worst terror wave in years; between March and Could, 20 Israelis had been killed in small-scale assaults from Be’er Sheva to Bnei Brak and Elad.

By early Could, Jenin — lengthy a terror lair — was as soon as once more in Israeli safety forces’ sights.

Sporting a ballistic helmet and blue bulletproof vest marked “Press,” Shireen Abu Akleh — a Palestinian-American who was a quarter-century veteran of Al-Jazeera — ready to enter the town within the northern West Financial institution.

By the day’s finish, her life was over and a world storm had damaged out. The Palestinians accused Israel of deliberately killing the reporter.

The Worldwide Federation of Journalists declared that the killing was dedicated by “Israeli troops.” Amnesty Worldwide agreed that this was “a bloody reminder of the lethal system through which Israel locks Palestinians.” CNN stated that Abu Akleh “was shot lifeless in a focused assault by Israeli forces.”

The State Division didn’t associate with these calumnies, however launched a press release saying that it was “probably” that the bullet had been fired by an IDF soldier.

Months later, the IDF itself agreed, at which level the State Division publicly known as on the Israeli navy to rethink the principles of engagement that led to the incident. The intervention drew a pointy response from Israeli leaders, together with the center-left prime minister, Yair Lapid.

Regardless of the widespread pushback from Israel’s politicians, Tom Nides says the administration’s dealing with of the difficulty — notably the dressing-down of an ally — wasn’t overreach.

“I didn’t know Shireen, however she was an American citizen, and I went to the wake,” he says. “It’s a tragedy. Nobody needs to see any journalists get killed. We tried to coordinate a ballistics examination between the Palestinians and Israelis, after which made a dedication final July that the IDF unintentionally shot her.

“Why did we urge the IDF to have a look at its protocols? The US has essentially the most highly effective navy on the planet, and we have a look at our guidelines of engagement on a regular basis.”

Nides is true that governments convey messages to one another on a regular basis. However did the selection of a public discussion board for urging change on an Israeli authorities preventing a terror wave not have a whiff of an administration desperate to be seen doing the fitting factor, even at Israel’s expense?

It’s definitely true that the Biden administration is below sturdy strain from senior members of its personal celebration to carry Israel to account. Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving member of the Senate, just lately warned that Israel confronted the lack of navy help below a legislation he sponsored 25 years in the past reducing weapons provides to nations that abuse human rights, if it didn’t clarify Abu Akleh’s loss of life.

“In my coronary heart of hearts, I don’t suppose that we mishandled this in any means,” Nides says. “She was an American citizen and a really well-known journalist, and I feel that we handled this with the utmost respect for her household, and for our ally.

“Like all nice buddy, you push again. That’s what the Israelis do to us on Iran — will we get offended?

The “nice associates can disagree” rhetoric has a sure Obama-esque high quality to it. It brings again recollections of what many Israelis keep in mind as an uncomfortable period when the chief of the free world used his bully pulpit to harangue Israel because the impediment to Center East peace.

However language aside, it’s clear that the Biden administration — and Nides by extension — is quietly charting a 3rd means on Israel.

Not the unqualified help of the Trump period, nor the chilly shoulder and “daylight” of the Obama years, however one thing extra like Biden himself: a genuinely heat help for Israel, tempered by the realities of present Democratic politics.

Nuclear Possibility

It’s a few thousand miles from the American embassy in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood to downtown Tehran. However for such a distant place, Tom Nides spends numerous time dwelling on it.

That’s as a result of because the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the shadow warfare between Israel and the ayatollahs has weighed on the US-Israel relationship.

The stealth jets that take off from the Negev, and, in keeping with latest stories, have penetrated Iranian airspace, are American equipped. The billions in navy help that the US offers Israel go towards growing superior missile defenses to neutralize Tehran’s ballistic arsenal, and fund the air drive’s evolving plans to presumably assault Iran’s nuclear websites.

Just a few weeks in the past, that long-running shadow warfare was again within the headlines with stories that America was about to signal on a brand new model of the JCPOA, as Obama’s Iran Deal is understood. However now that menace appears to have handed, and talks of a breakthrough have pale.

Does that imply that the Biden group has belatedly accepted the Israeli place that the proposed deal was too weak to be efficient in stopping the Iranian nuclear program? In reply, Nides reiterates a couple of administration positions.

“Joe Biden made it very clear he won’t stand by and let the Iranians get a nuclear weapon,” he insists. “He’s additionally been very clear that he needs a diplomatic resolution, however Iran isn’t near assembly the situations that Biden has set. It’ll be means after the November midterms — if ever — when the Iranians get again to us on this.”

It’s not clear whether or not it was the Individuals or the Iranians — or each — who slammed on the brakes on the negotiations. However Nides mentions a sticking level on which Biden has dug in his heels.

“We’ve informed Iran that we gained’t take away the terrorist designation from their Revolutionary Guards to make a deal occur. That’s not in response to Israeli strain, however as a result of Joe Biden promised to not.”

Ring of Fireplace

If a take care of Iran fails, although, it gained’t be due to this administration’s lack of making an attempt.

And if a breakthrough occurs, Israel will nonetheless be ringed by Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthis in Yemen, and Shiite militants in Iraq — to not point out sundry Gaza terror teams — armed to the enamel with Iranian rocketry and able to act as Tehran’s assault canine.

The distinction shall be that an emboldened Iran shall be flush with money and might double down on its efforts to problem Israel by proxy. How do the Iran Deal’s boosters intend to assist Israel on the day after?

“By maintaining the strain on Iran and its proxies, separate from the nuclear deal,” solutions Nides. “Iran may be very, very near breakout, to having sufficient materials to construct a bomb. Our argument has been that sure, it’s not an ideal deal. The Iranians are going to get cash to sponsor their proxies. However what’s the different? We have now to purchase time to allow different strain and sanctions to work.”

To date, Nides’s time period in workplace has been made simpler by the emollient, non-confrontational strategy adopted by the Bennett-Lapid duumvirate. Relying on whether or not Bibi is reelected come November, that might change if the veteran Israeli chief comes out preventing towards the deal as soon as once more.

No matter occurs, although, Nides says that even post-deal, a Biden administration gained’t stand in Israel’s means if it feels impelled to take navy motion.

“Joe Biden has stated very clearly that he gained’t tie Israel’s palms if it must defend itself towards Iran or its proxies.”

Ear to the Floor

Tom Nides respects a lot of his predecessors, and desires that he had Dan Shapiro’s command of Hebrew. However the lack of ability to converse like a sabra doesn’t appear to have stopped the ambassador from retaining his ear to the bottom; he’s managed to speak to actual individuals in addition to politicos.

“It’s a part of my job to get out of this fancy workplace to listen to what common Israelis suppose,” he says.

These journeys to shivah homes, chareidi work services, protection workouts, Maccabi athletic video games, and a myriad different engagements have taught Nides one thing that his earlier postings in finance and authorities didn’t convey.

Maybe it’s being raised in Duluth in a big, close-knit household that’s chargeable for the humanity that Nides sees as an essential a part of his job. However his expression is real when he says that the first lesson pertains to coping with individuals.

“It’s the little issues that rely,” says the person chargeable for the big-ticket objects on the Israel-American relationship.

“Being at a shivah, understanding what individuals are going by way of — on the finish of the day it’s exhibiting up that counts.”


(Initially featured in Mishpacha, Situation 931)

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