Let me begin by thanking General Udi Dekel, the INSS staff, and the Institute’s dedicated cadre of Israeli and international supporters for inviting me again to this invaluable meeting.
The U.S. Embassy in Israel has maintained a strong connection with this institution from its founding nearly four decades ago. In the United States, our “ideas industry,” as it is often called, plays a vital role in our national security community.
1) generate new ideas and solutions;
2) provide well-informed and reasoned analysis that enriches the policy and public discourse;
3) afford opportunities for informal diplomacy and track-two dialogue; and last but not least,
4) offer both a training ground for policymakers-to-be, as well as a place for self-reflection—“chesbon nefesh,” if you will—for public servants who step out of government.
We believe it is a model fit for export and emulation and we are proud to maintain such close ties with Israel’s ideas industry. Our engagement comes from American philanthropy, from partnerships between Israeli institutions and peer institutions in the United States, and through interactions with our government.
The longer I serve in Israel the more I have come to appreciate the enormous advantages of plugging into Israel’s ideas industry, especially so in the case of one of its brightest stars: INSS. When we at the Embassy, or our visitors from Washington, want to hone our understanding of Israeli national security doctrine and improve our knowledge of the broader strategic landscape, we come by INSS.
So “kol hakavod” on your outstanding and enlightening scholarship.
Now, I know the next panel, as it delves into the question of how to strengthen the U.S.-Israel Strategic Alliance – a goal I heartily endorse – is likely to get into some of the hot-button issues in our relationship that have recently been making headlines. That’s a worthy discussion, an especially worthy one for such a distinguished panel.
As I told Udi, I want there to be no ambiguity, and I want no one to misconstrue my presence on the program. So let me take the opportunity to restate what Secretary Kerry has said repeatedly: the United States has not acted, and will not act in any way to intervene in the Israeli election, or in the debate Israeli citizens are having about their next government.
We have great respect for the Israeli people and for Israel’s democratic process, and we look forward to working closely with whatever government Israelis choose.
Our positions on the most sensitive issues of the day are well known, and stated often by our senior officials, by myself, and by our spokespeople in Washington. And so while I will make reference to some of them, I will defer to other speakers to address in depth the more hot-button issues defining this election season.
But what I will do is offer some reflections on new opportunities and new horizons in this extraordinary relationship, opportunities and horizons which are often overlooked.
The unique American-Israeli alliance is built around three pillars:
shared values: those core beliefs that animate how our societies function at home and how we conduct ourselves internationally;
mutual interests: which we reinforce through our contributions to meeting each other’s challenges; and,
increasingly but still under-appreciated: the pursuit of our common prosperity.
“In Israel,” President Obama said during his visit here two years ago, “we see values that we share.”
Our relationship has long been anchored by shared values, the first pillar of our partnership. First and foremost, we share a mutual commitment to democracy, liberty, equality, and justice for all of our citizens.
In a world where freedom still struggles to take hold, Israel and America lead in safeguarding the rights of our own citizens to speak, associate, and worship freely in an open and tolerant society. We also stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the fight against terrorism, a scourge on humanity that knows no borders, no mercy and no compassion. Israelis knew this threat before most others, and now multinational coalitions take on this cause.
And anywhere Israel is subject to delegitimization or unfair criticism, you will find American and Israeli diplomats working together to fight back.
We stand together in the fight against anti-Semitism – which has surged in recent years, and reared its ugly head in recent days in deadly attacks in Paris and Copenhagen. As we have made clear to governments around the world, including in Europe, there must be zero tolerance of anti-Semitism, focused efforts to stamp it out, and greater protection for the Jewish communities who are its intended targets.
Haunted by the Shoah – the Nazi genocide – one of the greatest calamities in human history, which the international community failed to prevent, the United States and Israel are also united by a sacred commitment to prevent mass atrocities and genocide anywhere in the world.
Israel and America also share a common commitment to building a stronger international system for humanitarian relief. Our governments – and our societies – are leaders when it comes to disaster relief, in places as far afield as the Philippines, Haiti, and Japan, and in responding to global public health crises, like the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
Israel and America also share an understanding that entrepreneurship, free enterprise, and innovation are the most powerful engines for human development. I am proud that our social entrepreneurs, our philanthropists, and our civil societies are engaging each other in new and innovative ways to ensure that the bottom line also benefits those less fortunate.
Here in Israel, the United States continues to stand with all those who are fighting for equal rights, for tolerance and for greater pluralism.
When extremists attacked the Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand school in Jerusalem, the United States was there the next day to stand in solidarity with so many Israelis who rejected this gross act of hatred – two weeks later, President Obama and the First Lady were proud to host students from the school at the White House.
“The light of hope must outlast the fires of hate,” President Obama said, alongside Jewish and Arab students from Hand-in-Hand, declaring “that’s what our young people can teach us – that one act of faith can make a miracle. That love is stronger than hate. That peace can triumph over conflict.”
Your leaders spoke out, our leaders spoke out, and united we stand.
Similarly, I was honored to march with many of my colleagues from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride parade last year, and we are grateful for Israel’s constant support for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals in so many global human rights fora—where every vote counts.
Repairing our world and creating societies that fully honor and respect equal rights, tolerance, coexistence and pluralism, is a constant work in progress – in the United States, in Israel, and in any country that takes these values seriously; yet as we strive for this ideal, both of our countries are sustained and fortified by our shared commitment to these critical values.
Mutual interests form the second pillar of our extraordinary partnership. Simply put: on virtually every issue that defines today’s complex strategic equation in the Middle East, Israel and the United States are on the same side.
Whether it is confronting terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, the international campaign against ISIL, or the imperative of countering violent extremism across the broader Middle East, it is hard to overemphasize the complementarity of our security agendas. This includes our shared interest in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The United States is determined to prevent it, and we will prevent it. Our cooperation and consultations with Israel on this shared goal continue, even at moments when we may disagree on one or another aspect of the approach.
Just this week, White House Middle East Coordinator Phil Gordon has been in Israel meeting with senior Israeli officials. National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen will meet later in the week in Washington with his counterpart, Ambassador Susan Rice, and our lead negotiator, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman.
Likewise, we have a shared interest in a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, achieved through direct negotiations, in which two states for two people live side by side in peace, security, and mutual recognition.
The pursuit of these mutual interests is also reflected in America’s ongoing contributions to Israel’s right and ability to defend itself. We support Israel’s defense in myriad ways, whether through funding and partnering on all three layers of cutting edge missile defense systems like Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow, or through ensuring Israel has access to the latest and most sophisticated American military hardware, like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
For anyone who was here last summer, the most visible manifestation of our unique security relationship was no doubt watching Iron Dome intercept hundreds of rockets launched from Gaza that targeted Israeli population centers, saving countless lives.
Beyond our support, there is our partnership. Whether it be in the intelligence sphere – where we have reached new heights of intelligence sharing and cooperation – or with respect to joint training and readiness, our two defense establishments and our two fighting forces have never been closer.
Beyond our shared values and mutual interests, the third and most rapidly expanding pillar of our special ties, but perhaps the least discussed, is the pursuit of our common prosperity.
This extraordinary partnership now encompasses robust economic and commercial ties that have created jobs for tens of thousands of Israelis and Americans. Other countries look on with envy, as we have transformed a political and strategic relationship into a powerful engine for economic growth.
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of both the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement (FTA) – the first such agreement America signed with any nation – and the establishment of the Joint Economic Development Group, our annual economic dialogue. The FTA and JEDG were both established at a time when Israel badly needed U.S. assistance to get its economy on track; the results of this effort thirty years ago exceed anything envisioned by those who placed these foundation stones.
Since the FTA was signed in 1985, trade has multiplied eightfold to some $45 billion in bilateral trade. But we can do even more. I am pleased to announce here that I will be leading an impressive delegation of over a dozen Israeli companies to the Administration’s SelectUSA investment summit in Washington next month, the largest such delegation ever from Israel. These companies are the latest in a growing number of Israeli firms that see opportunities to set up operations in the United States, which creates jobs and wealth in both countries.
America remains the world’s top choice for foreign investors, and Israel is now a top-tier investor in the United States, despite the relatively small size of its economy. The total stock of FDI from Israel in the United States was valued at over $27 billion at the end of 2013, placing Israel among the top 20 investor countries.
Many Americans are captivated by the story of the Start-Up Nation. During his last visit, President Obama said that: if you want to see the future of the world economy, and I quote, “look at Tel Aviv, home to hundreds of start-ups and research centers.”
Across the entire high-tech sector, our relationship is booming. American companies account for two-thirds of the roughly 300 international research and development centers in Israel, in which critical components of leading American high-tech products are invented and designed. Every major American technology company has determined that in order to be globally competitive, it cannot afford NOT to be in Israel.
Our capital markets are also deeply intertwined. As I learned last week during my visit to the new Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, there are currently 78 Israeli companies that trade on U.S. exchanges, putting Israel in the top three of foreign countries, with a combined market capitalization of $117 billion.
Near Sorek and the Palmachim air force base – on a small site that was formerly sand dunes – Israel now boasts one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated water desalination plants. The next Middle East war – despite what we heard for a half century – will likely NOT be over water. Through desalination, recycling, conservation, and sophisticated irrigation techniques, Israel has taken great strides toward solving its century-old water crisis. Israeli companies are now helping us solve ours, such as in Carlsbad, California, where Israeli ingenuity and expertise are helping to build the largest seawater desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere.
These are the new pioneers – the 21st century halutzim – who are helping to ensure our common prosperity.
At the U.S. Embassy, through innovative grants to the Nazareth Business Incubator Center; an NGO called Middle East Education Through Technology (MEET) which trains young people of different backgrounds in technology and entrepreneurial skills; the Kemach Foundation, which provides scholarships for higher education to Haredim; and other grantees – in addition to our partnership with groups like “Breaking the Impasse” – we are working to ensure that high-tech and entrepreneurship also become engines of social cohesion, social development, and peace.
As impressive as the last 30 years of accomplishments have been, we need to look to the future and work together to improve the trade and investment climate even further and harness the untapped potential of our economies.
American companies are already helping build Israel’s natural gas infrastructure and supplying expertise that is helping Israel become more energy independent. We hope conditions will enable this industry to continue to expand, to strengthen important regional partnerships, and to attract additional American investment.
Moreover, there is still work to be done to bring down trade barriers and facilitate the freer flow of goods – including agricultural goods – and services between our two powerful economies. These are among our goals to further expand our shared prosperity.
Ours is a unique alliance, with old foundations and new horizons, built upon three pillars: shared values, mutual interests and our common prosperity.
During President Obama’s last visit here in Israel, he pledged that America will always stand by Israel, he declared that Israelis will never be alone – אתם לא לבד.
As the United States Ambassador to Israel, I am confident and comforted that in this challenging and sometimes unforgiving part of the world, neither is America alone.