From Tel Aviv to Washington, D.C., political insiders have been speculating for months who President Joe Biden would pick as U.S. ambassador to Israel — and the speculation has extended to Florida.
The high-profile and sensitive post is even more important given the current heightened hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians.
One possible pick for ambassador: former South Florida Congressman Robert Wexler, who was one of Israel’s most prominent supporters during his time in the House.
The political rumor mill floated the name of Wexler’s successor, current South Florida Congressman Ted Deutch, who knocked down the idea in a statement Tuesday. He said he hopes an ambassador is appointed soon, and he’s staying put.
“Especially in light of the ongoing terrorist attacks on our ally Israel, we need an ambassador in Jerusalem to represent the interests of the United States, and I hope the president will name an ambassador very soon,” Deutch said. “I look forward to working closely with our ambassador to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship from my seat in Congress and my chairmanship of the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee.”
Deutch told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz earlier this month that he supports Wexler for the job. “Robert Wexler has spent most of his adult life focused on Middle East issues. He was deeply involved as a member of Congress and he’s continued the work since leaving Congress,” Deutch said. “He knows the issues, he knows the players, he’s well respected across the political spectrum and he understands the many challenges that come with that position.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was the first Jewish woman from Florida elected to Congress, has expressed support for Wexler with the White House. So have several other Democrats in the House and Senate, including committee chairmen. Support for Wexler is coming from the progressive and centrist wings of the Democratic Party.
In early 2007, Wexler became the first big-name Florida politician and one of the few Jewish Democrats in the country to endorse Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, long before pundits gave Obama a chance of winning when virtually every other South Florida Democrat — including Deutch — was supporting Hillary Clinton.
Many thought Wexler might become an Obama administration ambassador, but he instead resigned from Congress after 13 years to become president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, where he has been since 2010. Besides his Abraham Center work, he is senior counselor in the Washington, D.C., office of the prominent lobbying firm Ballard Partners, and is co-managing partner of its Tel Aviv office.
He’s also been a Biden supporter, volunteering for his 1988 presidential campaign. Wexler was a supporter of Biden’s candidacy for the 2020 Democratic nomination on Day One of the campaign.
On the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Wexler was a fierce advocate on behalf of Israel. He titled his 2008 book “Fire-Breathing Liberal.” Wexler arrived in Florida at age 10, attended Hollywood Hills High School and the University of Florida and the Georgetown University School of Law, practiced law in Boca Raton and served in the Florida Senate.
“Being a Floridian is in my blood and that’ll never change,” Wexler said in an interview the month before his resignation was effective. “Being a Floridian is central to my very being.”
In his South Florida district, Wexler was known as someone who spoke loudly enough so any older voters with hearing difficulties wouldn’t have trouble receiving his messages. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, a Palm Beach County Republican, once quipped that, “One thing with Robert Wexler is you never needed a Miracle Ear.” Wexler said his volume came about because of the 1996 primary for Congress. After a debate, voters assessed the three candidates in a newspaper article and “a remarkably wonderful lady said she was going to vote for me because I was the only one she could hear, and I never forgot that.”
Wexler’s prospects aren’t clear.
The Associated Press reported in early May that Wexler and Thomas Nides, a former deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration “are under consideration for ambassador to Israel.” The Washington Post reported in late April that Nides “has emerged as the likely candidate for ambassador to Israel.” Jewish Insider reported that Nides “is close with Biden as well as key members of his Cabinet and national security team. In the Obama White House, Nides was viewed as a pro-Israel voice and someone the Israelis often went to when challenges arose, while also an advocate for humanitarian support for the Palestinians.”
The reports about Nides generated support for Wexler, who has devoted much of his career in Congress and since to Israel and the Middle East. Nidas is currently vice chairman of the investment bank Morgan Stanley, where he worked before joining the Obama administration.
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Presidents in both parties install political supporters in some ambassadorships. The American Foreign Service Association appointment tracker reports 44% of former President Donald Trump’s ambassadors, 30% of former President Barack Obama’s ambassadors, and 32% of former President George W. Bush’s ambassadors were political appointments.
During the campaign, Biden said he would appoint “the best people possible” to ambassadorships. He didn’t rule out political appointments, but said contributions wouldn’t translate into appointments.
Recent South Florida ambassadors included Sharon Day of Fort Lauderdale, the former No. 2 official at the Republican National Committee, as Trump’s ambassador to Costa Rica, and Mark Gilbert, a prominent Democratic Party fundraiser from Palm Beach County, as Obama’s ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa.
Biden has, so far, nominated relatively few ambassadors. Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former State Department Official, wrote on Twitter that “the lack of an Ambassador to Israel and a consul general in Jerusalem is a serious problem during a crisis.”