REFLECTIONS ON THE U.S.-ISRAEL ALLIANCE
A shared commitment to the rule of law
Let me begin by thanking the Israel Bar Association leaders and my hosts, Doron Barzilay, Zaki Kamal, Gideon Fischer, and the association’s dedicated cadre of staff. Thank you for inviting me again to this invaluable meeting. Let me also acknowledge the many visitors from abroad, including the sizable American delegation. Welcome!
I also want to acknowledge Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, Chief Rabbi David Lau, Minister of Justice and MK Ayelet Shaked, Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, and all the other national and local leaders who are here today.
It is a special treat to come back to Eilat, one of Israel’s most dynamic cities. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to engage the local community, including Mayor Yitzhak Halevi; to see the beauty of Israel’s Red Sea coast; to peer across the borders with Egypt and Jordan and see the fruits of the peace that the United States has worked so tirelessly to promote for four decades; and to meet with a range of innovators and security professionals to gain a better appreciation of both the threats and opportunities Israel faces.
As someone who has lived and worked in Washington for most of my adult life, I also want to tell you how comfortable it feels to be here, with you, with all of you, despite not being a lawyer myself. The truth is that being physically confined in a small space with hundreds of lawyers is something very natural for anyone who has lived in Washington.
And while my graduate studies took me toward the Middle East and politics, rather than law, it is worth noting for this audience my undergraduate degree from Brandeis University. Brandeis is, of course, named for the great American Jewish jurist and Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a stalwart champion of free speech and the right to privacy, and a dedicated believer in the proposition that the law could, and should, be a tool to protect the rights of ordinary citizens against the greed and corruption often found in larger institutions.
Not incidentally, he was also a pioneering and devoted leader of the American Zionist movement, making him one of the earliest bridges between the American legal tradition and what became the State of Israel. I know that Justice Brandeis would be immensely proud of the impressive state of the legal profession and the strong, independent judiciary here in Israel, and so much in evidence at this conference.
Now, I know some of the panels are addressing international legal questions, and naturally relations with the United States are also on the agenda. And I know that in the corridors, where the “tachlis” conversations take place, these issues will also be raised.
As the new Israeli government begins its work, let me reiterate President Obama’s message of congratulations, and that he and the entire Administration look forward to working closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the new government to address the many common challenges we face and advance our shared interest in peace and security.
President Obama has instructed his national security team to consult closely with the new government on ways to strengthen our long-term security cooperation and make clear our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, including its right and ability to defend itself.
As we continue to evaluate options for the way forward, the United States looks to work with the new government on ways to achieve progress toward a two-state solution, an objective that remains a core national security interest for the United States. Even as we enter a period in which negotiations appear difficult to launch and a two-state solution not achievable in the near term, it is critical that we find other ways to keep the two-state solution alive and viable.
It remains our view that there is no alternative to a two-states-for-two-peoples solution that can ensure Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state; no alternative that can meet Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for independence in a peaceful state of their own; and no alternative that can better serve U.S. interests.
President Obama still believes, as he said in Jerusalem, that peace is necessary, just, and possible. Even in a period when mutual distrust and political developments on both sides make negotiations unlikely, we need to find ways to remind Israelis and Palestinians of that truth. So we will be looking to the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority for policies and actions that demonstrate a commitment to that goal.
The unique American-Israeli alliance is built around three pillars:
First, we share mutual interests, perhaps now more than ever amidst a region in tumult and as we face chaos and civil wars in places like Syria, Yemen, and Libya; violence and extremism from terrorist organizations like Hizballah, Hamas, al-Qaeda, and Daesh; and an Iranian regime which sponsors terror, threatens Israel, destabilizes its neighbors, and pursues deadly nuclear technology.
Our alignment of interests is reinforced through our contributions to meeting each other’s security and strategic challenges. Under President Obama’s leadership, the U.S.-Israel security partnership has reached all-time highs in virtually every metric that matters most for the safety and security of Israelis, including intelligence cooperation, joint military training, ballistic missile defense, including the dramatic, life-saving success of Iron Dome, and soon the arrival of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s most sophisticated fighter aircraft, which will form the backbone of the Israeli Air Force for the next generation.
I look forward to spending time later today with Israeli soldiers and sailors at the Eilat naval base, which plays a critical role in securing Israel and guarding the peace. We are also grateful that the base plays host to U.S. naval ships when their sailors and Marines come in for a few well-earned days of shore leave from their critical missions ensuring the security of our friends and allies in the region.
Now, our two countries do encounter policy disagreements from time to time, and we are wrestling with one right now, namely, the question of the best way to achieve our shared goal of ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. But even our disagreements, as real and difficult as they can be, must be properly understood within the context of an unshakeable alliance.
As we continue to negotiate with Iran, together with our P5+1 partners, our eyes remain firmly fixed on a good deal, because we will not settle for a bad deal. A good deal is one that blocks every pathway Iran could use to achieve a nuclear weapon; keeps Iran at least one year from a breakout capability for well over a decade; ensures the most intrusive monitoring and verification measures, so we will know if Iran is cheating and be able to respond with renewed sanctions or even a military option, if necessary; and ensures sanctions are only eased when Iran complies with its commitments and can be reimposed quickly in response to Iranian violations. This is the only kind of agreement we will accept.
Even as the negotiations continue, we are prepared to engage our Israeli partners immediately to explore ways to strengthen our security cooperation, including measures to counter Iranian threats around the region. We have been conducting a similar dialogue with our Gulf partners, including at last week’s summit at Camp David. We hope now that the Israeli government is in place, those discussions can proceed.
The second pillar of the U.S.-Israel alliance 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 the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement—the first FTA America signed with any nation.
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.
Many Americans are captivated by the story of the Start-Up Nation. During his last visit, President Obama said: 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.”
American companies are also helping build Israel’s natural gas and energy infrastructure and supplying expertise that is helping Israel achieve energy security, and even become an energy exporter. Later today, I will visit cutting edge renewable energy enterprises, part of this region’s new landscape of innovation.
We hope conditions will enable these and other industries to continue to expand, to strengthen important regional partnerships, and to attract additional American involvement. We are also looking to promote direct investment by Israeli companies in the United States, as we did when 14 Israeli firms joined me at the SelectUSA investment summit in Washington in March of this year.
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 and harness the untapped potential of our economies.
The third pillar of the relationship is our shared values, those core beliefs that animate how our societies function at home and how we conduct ourselves internationally.
“In Israel,” President Obama said during his visit here two years ago, “we see values that we share.” 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, Israel and America lead in safeguarding the rights of our own citizens to speak, associate, and worship freely in an open and tolerant society.
Our shared values are expansive. For American diplomats, they also define a top priority of our work across the globe. Anywhere Israel is subject to delegitimization, defamation, or double-standards, anywhere Israel’s right to defend itself is called into question, you will find American and Israeli diplomats working together to fight back. It is a 24/7 task, trust me. On some days, it is American and Israeli lawyers conferring and coordinating intensively, typically behind the scenes, to develop legal strategies to protect Israel from all forms of delegitimization.
This fight is a common cause for all defenders of freedom and for all who seek to expand the liberal order.
On one particular question of great concern here let me be absolutely clear. The United States opposes “Palestinian steps that throw up further obstacles to peace, including actions against Israel at the International Criminal Court,” to quote National Security Advisor Susan Rice just a few weeks ago. We will continue to use all tools at our disposal to combat these and other forms of delegitimization against Israel. Doing so is part and parcel of our commitment to oppose unilateral steps by any side – including incitement and settlement activity – that harms the atmosphere of trust that is needed and which are at cross-purposes with the goal of a two-state solution.
As I said last week at the Foreign Ministry’s Global Forum on Combating anti-Semitism, our two countries stand together in the new struggle against this ancient hatred. 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 its intended targets.
Our shared commitment to the rule of law defines a significant amount of our work. Let me provide a few examples.
The U.S. embassy facilitates intensive exchanges between American lawyers and jurists and members of the Israeli legal system, including Supreme Court and District Court judges, Ministry of Justice officials, court administrators, this association, the state attorney, leaders of human and civil rights NGOs, and, of course, lawmakers in the Knesset.
In fact, over the past few years, the Embassy has arranged for dozens of International Visitor exchange programs for a wide range of Israeli leaders and professionals, including Justice Minister Shaked last year, who joined a delegation of women Members of Knesset from parties across the political spectrum. One of the goals of the International Visitor Leadership Program is to spot rising stars before they become household names and cabinet ministers. I have to say, in Minister Shaked’s case, I think we succeeded.
We engage with many women’s organizations such as WIZO, Emunah and the Israel Women’s Network to develop programs to promote women’s economic, social and political skills. Women’s leadership and participation are also critically important for advancing justice.
At a 2001 symposium entitled “Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation,” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, then an appeals court judge, said that diversity in experience can help inform sound legal judgments. I think there’s a lot of truth in that. When a judiciary represents diverse perspectives, that diversity will make for stronger decisions—ones that are reflective not just of some people, but all people in society. And as their numbers have grown, so has the understanding of issues like harassment and discrimination.
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of visiting the District Court in Nazareth and meeting with a diverse group of more than a dozen Israeli judges who had participated in professional development visits to the United States. Some, upon their return, have worked to adapt mediation, case management and court diversion models used by U.S. courts to help address a problem both of our countries share: overstretched and overburdened court systems.
The Institute of Advanced Judicial Studies, headed by former Deputy Supreme Court Justice Shlomo Levine, was established based on the U.S. Federal Judicial Center model following a number of exchange programs.
I am proud that the Embassy has maintained a close professional relationship with the Israel Bar Association, and with regional Bar Associations. At the very first Bar Association conference the Embassy provided funding to bring U.S. mediation specialists. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan met with the Northern Bar Association during her visit in July 2012. Supreme Court Justice Antonio Scalia met with judges and lawyers in Nazareth.
The Fulbright program, one of the U.S. government’s flagship international education programs, has 140 Israel alumni from the legal sector, including former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak and journalist Ilana Dayan.
More broadly, when it comes to case law—and for Israelis, the most important case law—decisions passed down by Israel’s Supreme Court have long borrowed from foreign law. We take pride in the fact that landmark decisions from American courts have provided a well-spring for Israeli jurisprudence, both in specific Israeli court decisions and in Israel’s own tradition of judicial review.
To take just one example, we can see the influence of American case law in how the Israeli legal establishment protects free speech, going back to Justice Shimon Agranat and the Kol Ha’am decision in 1953. Even in Israel’s early days, when national security dilemmas were perhaps at their peak, Israel found ways to strike a balance, and landmark cases like this one drew on American legal principles. That continues to be true today.
The United States and Israel share a unique alliance, with old foundations and new horizons, built upon three pillars: mutual interests, our common prosperity, and shared values: including a shared commitment to the rule of law, an open society, and freedom of expression. We pursue these common interests in tandem and draw strength from one another.
During President Obama’s visit here in Israel two years ago, he pledged that America will always stand by Israel. He declared that Israelis will never be alone–אתם לא לבד-you are not alone.
As the United States Ambassador to Israel, I am also here to tell you that we take a measure of comfort in the knowledge that, as we look for partners in this region who share our democratic values and commitment to the rule of law, America is also not alone.