PM Bennett and Ambassador Nides
PM Bennett and Ambassador Nides Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO

Thomas Richard Nides, the newly-appointed US Ambassador to Israel, on Wednesday spoke with Yediot Aharonot, emphasizing that he would not do anything to purposely anger anyone .

In the exclusive interview, published Friday, Nides, age 61, explained, "I am Reform. We were not religious. We grew up on Judaism as a culture, not as a religion. We light candles on Friday night, we marked the holidays, and every child celebrated a bar or bat mitzvah."

When Nides presented his credentials to Israeli President Isaac Herzog, he had a surprise waiting for him: His bar mitzvah teacher, who had immigrated to Israel.

"I have a special gift for you," Herzog told him then. "I invited the teacher who taught you for your bar mitzvah. She immigrated to Israel."

"The woman stood up from her place," Nides recalled. "I thought, 'What will I do if she starts asking me questions in Hebrew, if she asks me to review the haftara? I'll start to panic, before all of those present.' I was lucky - she did not ask."

Nides' wife of 30 years, Virginia Carpenter Moseley, is senior vice president of newsgathering at CNN. She works in Washington, he in Jerusalem.

"My wife was supposed to come for Christmas, but she was forced to cancel, because of coronavirus," Nides told Yediot Aharonot. "She will come for a visit in another two weeks, and after that once a month."

"My wife has a big career of her own. The separation was harder for me than for her: Always, in all my travels in the world, I insisted on not being away for her for more than three or four nights. We are a very close family."

Nides' son Max, a law student, joined him in Israel during his first month in office.

"I lit the eighth Hanukkah candle at the Western Wall. My son and the Western Wall rabbi stood beside me," he said.

Max's mother is not Jewish, and under Jewish law, Max himself is therefore not Jewish. "From my perspective he is a Jew, and from his perspective as well," Nides said of his son. "He calls himself a Jew and believes he is a Jew. Others can argue."

When asked if he had visited Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria, Nides said, "No. I did not do that."

He emphasized, "Absolutely not. Just as I asked the Palestinians and the Israelis not to do anything that would inflame the situation, I do the same myself. I do not want to make anyone upset. I know that I will make mistakes, that I will say things that will cause grievance. I am sure that in this interview as well, I will say something that will anger someone. But to anger people intentionally? Not me."

Regarding the Iran deal, Nides agreed that there is a disagreement between the countries and the US "wants a diplomatic solution," but said that if the US does not reach a diplomatic agreement: "There are other options that we are discussing."

He added: "We are a central player in the Iran issue, which is the most important issue in the region today. In addition, we fully support the Abraham Accords. We will continue to advance Israel's economic ties with the Emirates, and we will bring in other countries."

Nides also discussed the disagreement between the US and Israel regarding opening a consulate in Jerusalem for the Palestinian Authority.

"We want to reopen the consulate. We told that to the Israeli government," he said.

"Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The US ambassador lives and works in it. We hope that if the direct negotiations restart, the decision regarding Jerusalem will be agreed on by both sides."

Binyamin Regional Council head Yisrael Gantz responded: "In order to be serious, you need to recognize the facts. The statement by Ambassador Tom Nides does not respect Israeli policy and is in contradiction to the US statement which recognizes the legality of the Jewish settlements."

"In addition, when dealing with such an important matter in a serious fashion, one must be familiar with the facts from up close. I assume that this is how the Ambassador acts with other issues he is involved in.

"This evening, I sent him an official invitation to come and visit Binyamin, to meet the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who live in Judea and Samaria and who are connected to a history which is thousands of years old, and not to be driven by prejudices."