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Senate panel OKs Lew to be ambassador to Israel, and a final confirmation vote could come next week

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved Jacob Lew to be ambassador to Israel, moving quickly to get him in place during the country’s new war with Hamas.

The panel voted 12-9 on Wednesday to move Lew’s nomination to the Senate floor for a final vote, which could come as soon as next week. All Republicans on the panel except Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul voted against him.

Lew, a former treasury secretary and budget director under President Barack Obama, told the committee at his confirmation vote last week that “there is no greater mission” at this moment than to help strengthen ties between the United States and Israel. He said he would ensure Israel has what it needs to defend itself in the war, which started after brutal surprise attacks by Hamas earlier this month. He said he would also address the humanitarian crisis facing civilians in Gaza after Israeli military strikes.

The Senate is moving quickly to confirm Lew, who was nominated by President Joe Biden last month after Tom Nides left as ambassador in July. Democrats say Lew’s wealth of government experience makes him the right person to fill the post at a critical moment in the two countries’ relationship.

Republicans have criticized Lew for his role in the Obama White House when it negotiated the Iran nuclear agreement in 2015, among other foreign policy moves. The deal with Iran — the chief sponsor of Hamas — was later scuttled by President Donald Trump.

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the committee, told Lew at the hearing that he had concerns that Lew would not be tough enough on Iran.

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Lew defended his work in the Obama White House and called Iran an “evil, malign government.”