Senator questions the nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Israel at committee hearing
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) today spoke at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s nomination for U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Last weekend, Senator Romney joined a bipartisan delegation of senators on an official visit to Israel following the unconscionable terrorist attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians.
A transcript of the Senator’s exchange with Jack Lew can be found below and video can be found here.
Senator Romney: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I, along with a handful of other senators, were in Israel over the weekend and had the chance to meet with leadership there, former leadership of the country, as well as with military leaders and with families of hostages. And I know that your confirmation can be done by one party alone and you’re likely to be confirmed on that basis. But that being said, there are a few things I’d like to pass along to you, assuming that you do become Ambassador. One is that our Chief of Mission is a highly respected individual, respected by the Israeli leadership, and is working in the interest of the United States and is someone who we respect enormously as well.
Meeting with the families of hostages, their stories and the experiences are heartbreaking. The outrage, the brutality, the inhumanity of Hamas in the way they took children and others and grabbed them and took them across the border is hard to comprehend. And we need to do everything within our power to secure the release of those hostages. I’d also note that one of the generals, the leading general of the Israeli Defense Forces, said something that’s very powerful. He said, “Israel and Jews don’t do vengeance. We’re not going to target Palestinians and try and kill a lot of Palestinians to make up for all the Jews that were killed. That is not our intent. We will do everything in our power to avoid civilian casualties among the Palestinian people, but they’re being used as human shields and in many cases, there will be deaths, but they will be unfortunate and not part of an effort on the part of Israel to carry out vengeance.”
I’d also note that there is a responsibility that every government has and the Israeli government, of course, has this responsibility, as well, to secure the safety and the life of their citizens. And in this case, Hamas has made it very clear that as long as they exist, Israeli citizens’ lives are going to be at risk and will be sacrificed. And therefore, it is unacceptable for Hamas to continue to exist, certainly in the proximity that they have enjoyed from the Gaza Strip.
I would note also that in discussion of what comes next, what’s going to happen after, let’s assume that the Israeli military is successful in rooting out Hamas. What happens after that? There was no clear response to that and I didn’t expect necessarily a response to that because the Israeli government and military is focused on how they’re going to be successful in rooting out Hamas. That’s what comes first. But what comes next is something which will be a great priority for the United States Ambassador there.
I’m going to note that that said, I was very troubled by the report of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that was carried out under the direction of Senator Portman. I concur in the questions that were being raised by Senator Rubio. That is very troubling to me. I wonder how the White House could have brought forward a nomination, given that report and given the clear indication that the Republican members, at least and hopefully some Democrat members as well, would be troubled by and moved by the results of that report from the Subcommittee on Investigations.
Finally, a question and that relates to a tangential issue. And that is there is most recently a response or an effort has been promoted by the Administration to provide $6 billion of Iranian funds to Iran to release them as part of the prisoner exchange. That’s obviously been put on hold. But I guess I question, and you have experience in this regard, the idea that dollars are going to be used for humanitarian purposes only. I heard the Administration say, “we’re going to get you your $6 billion back, but it has to only be used for humanitarian purposes.” Now, I know enough about money to know that funds are fungible and that if we say we’re going to give you $6 billion, but you’ve got to use it for food and hospitals for your population, Iran can say, “Thank you, that’s what we use the $6 billion for now. We’ve freed up $6 billion that we otherwise would have used ourselves for food and hospital, and now we can use that to build nuclear weapons or provide money to Hezbollah or Hamas.” Am I wrong? It strikes me that when we say that we’re going to give you money, but only for humanitarian purposes, it’s an entirely disingenuous. It’s a way of disguising the fact that we’re providing funds to a state sponsor of terror. It’s misleading to the American people, misleading to the world. Is there any other way of reading that?
Jack Lew: Well, Senator, first, I want to agree with you about the difference between defending a country and vengeance. And there’s a difference between anger and fury and vengeance. If any of us lived in a country where that large part of our population had been brutalized in a way that we couldn’t hardly imagine, controlling your fury is almost beyond the imagination. I believe they’re going to do the right thing and try their best to do it to defend the country, not for vengeance. You know, on the question, you didn’t ask it as a question, but the report of the special committee, you know, I have remained close with Senator Portman even since we both left government. I spoke to him as recently as last night. I would just invite anyone who questions whether he thinks that I’m somebody who keeps my word. I would just suggest they talk to Senator Portman.
On the question of fungibility of money as an economic matter, I have many times made the point that money is fungible. But when you’re dealing with Iran, you’re not dealing with a rational economic player. You’re dealing with an evil, malign government that funds its evil and malign activities first. So when Iran gets access to food and medicine for its people, that’s food and medicine they wouldn’t otherwise have. I can’t say that there’s no leakage. And when I supported the JCPOA, what I said was our intelligence reports suggest that the vast majority of that money will be used for the neglected purpose of humanitarian expenses. And to the extent that there’s leakage, it won’t change the thrust of what they do. Sadly, supporting terrorist organizations like Hamas and terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, that’s not very expensive. They’re doing that anyway. We’re trying. I tried as hard as I could. Subsequent administrations tried as hard as they could. Under maximum pressure, they still were doing their malign activities. So it’s not a pure economic question. It’s really a question of who are we dealing with? We’re not dealing with people who trade off guns and butter. Guns come first.