Thank you, Dana.
Since President Obama sent me to Israel to serve as the Ambassador of the United States, I have done myself a big favor by starting my day with Yediot Aharonot and checking YNET throughout the day and into the night, including, in my case, the wee hours.
To the sponsors of the conference, I want to say thank you for inviting me, but more than that I want to thank them for devoting so many resources over the long-term to this important issue.
Before I speak to the issue of boycotts, let me first restate President Obama and Secretary Kerry’s absolute condemnations of the recent attacks in Istanbul and Brussels, in Pakistan and here in Israel.
Terror is terror is terror, and there is never an excuse for terror, never any justification for terror.
We mourn with the nations affected, including Israel, even as we grieve for the American victims of these attacks—including most recently Taylor Force, murdered in Jaffa, Avraham Goldman and Yonatan Suher, Israelis murdered in Istanbul who were also American citizens, and numerous Americans murdered in Brussels. Yehi Zichram Baruch.
In the face of these outrages, we have redoubled our commitment to fight the scourge of terrorism and to continue to broaden the alliance of like-minded nations who have taken active roles in this common struggle.
Here, in Israel, we have consistently and forcefully condemned the wave of terrorism against innocent Israelis, and as Vice President Biden said during his recent visit, we condemn the failure to condemn these atrocious acts of violence. We continue to seek ways to deescalate and end the violence.
Let me state simply and up front what the U.S. policy is with respect to what has become known as the BDS, or the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel.
The United States of America vigorously opposes efforts to isolate or boycott Israel. We have demonstrated this commitment for decades and continue to devote substantial resources in our government to this fight. We consider it an extension of our longstanding commitment to fight any effort to delegitimize Israel.
And beyond our opposition, we lead what could be called a “counter boycott,” demonstrating through our actions that we seek the opposite of boycotts; we seek to make our economic ties with Israel stronger with each passing year.
We know that the BDS movement is not disconnected from the pernicious and persistent evil of anti-Semitism, which continues to rear its ugly head and is on the rise in too many parts of the world.
As Vice President Biden stated last week, “when swastikas are painted on synagogues, when Jewish people are targeted in terrorist attacks, when thousands of European Jews immigrate to Israel out of fear, when a seemingly organized effort to discredit, delegitimize, and isolate Israel persists on the international stage, it’s dangerous. It’s wrong. And every time we encounter it, we have an obligation to speak out against it.”
This is a moral imperative. And so our policy is clear:
“I have directed my Administration to strongly oppose boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting the State of Israel,” stated President Obama last month. “As long as I am President, we will continue to do so.”
These are our marching orders, plain and simple.
Let me expand.
Boycotts are not an abstract notion for the United States. We were targets of an Arab oil embargo in the 1970s. We faced a choice of oil or Israel, and we refused to surrender. Rather than buckle to blackmail, we increased our support for Israel and also doubled-down on our diplomatic efforts at Arab-Israeli peacemaking, decisions that proved momentous and hugely beneficial to both our countries.
Over the years, although boycotts have not disappeared, the United States has consistently worked to counter and roll back efforts to isolate Israel. And we have had successes.
Our opposition is not rhetorical; we have demonstrated this commitment for decades.
Central to these efforts have been our actions against the Arab League Boycott. Although the boycott is not what it was in years past, it is still on the books in many countries, and U.S. officials continue to investigate instances of boycott activity.
In the Commerce Department, for example, we have a dedicated team of “boycott busters”, who work to ensure that American companies comply with their legal obligations to report the receipt of boycott requests and to refuse to take actions that would restrict trade with Israel. In 2015, 1,114 reports were filed with Commerce’s Office of Anti-boycott Compliance. In addition, that office continues to bring enforcement actions against violators, including civil penalties.
Working closely with the State Department and the U.S. Trade Representative, the Commerce Department continues to reach out to exporters, manufacturers, freight forwarders, bankers, and attorneys involved in international trade transactions to ensure compliance with our anti-boycott laws and to provide extensive counseling to individual companies with boycott-specific problems.
In another landmark case last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation challenged Kuwait Airlines over its refusal to sell tickets to Israeli passport holders—in this case, for a routing between New York and London. When Kuwait Airlines refused to amend its policy, they had no choice but to abandon the route. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx warned, “any airline that wishes to operate in the U.S. should know that we will not tolerate discrimination of any kind in our skies.”
Our efforts to fight back against boycotts are a recurring topic in high-level and working-level bilateral discussions with the Government of Israel.
Whenever needed, we stand prepared to intensify expert-level contacts between our two governments.
We believe the steps we take to reject and oppose efforts to boycott or delegitimize Israel have a deadening effect on attempts by others, including more recently debated boycott and divestment measures by non-profits and local groups.
It is true that there are voices in the United States, on college campuses and elsewhere, who are promoting the BDS campaign against Israel. And in our democracy, their right of free speech cannot be curtailed. But no American citizen should have any doubt that the policy of the U.S. government is resolute opposition to such initiatives.
Vice President Biden said it in a thundering voice last Sunday: “We will continue to push back against the call here in the United States for people to boycott, divest, or sanction Israel. It’s wrong. It’s wrong. It’s wrong.”
This clear policy – repeated time and time again by the White House and by bipartisan leaders in Congress – is an enormous asset in the broader campaign to ensure that all such efforts fail. The same could be said for anti-BDS measures taken independently at the state and local levels in the U.S.
The other huge asset we draw on is broad support among the American people. We know that, despite some loud voices to the contrary, our policy of opposing boycotts and deepening our engagement with Israel enjoys deep domestic support.
Indeed, beyond opposing boycotts and efforts to isolate Israel, we demonstrate with our actions that the United States policy is to deepen and expand our economic partnerships with Israel.
Just as “counter speech” has been recognized as one of the most effective tools to counter hate, racism, and anti-Semitism, a U.S.-led “counter boycott” is similarly one of the best antidotes to the boycotters and the isolaters.
America leads by example, and we encourage other countries to join us in seeking shared economic successes that serve our common prosperity.
Let me offer a few specific examples. Our Free Trade Agreement, the first America signed with any country, has been an economic driver for more than three decades. This framework has helped spark exponential growth in bilateral trade, from some $8 billion a year when the agreement was signed in 1985 to over $45 billion today.
Perhaps just as important, it has sent a powerful signal to other countries about the imperative – and the incentives – of engaging, rather than isolating Israel.
Hundreds of American companies have invested in Israel, with R&D centers, manufacturing plants, and partnerships with Israeli firms. Among them are American firms like Google, Intel, HP, and Microsoft. These companies are drawn by the vibrancy and innovative spirit of the Israeli workforce, which make them more profitable in Israel, in the United States, and globally. As a government, we proudly celebrate their successes, as I did last month when I helped Microsoft mark their 25th anniversary in Israel.
Similarly, we actively seek to attract Israeli investment in the United States. In June, I will lead to Washington what I expect to be the largest ever delegation of Israeli companies to attend the U.S. government’s premier overseas investment forum, the 2016 SelectUSA Investment Summit. It is an unparalleled opportunity to deepen trade and investment ties and also send yet another sign that boycotts and sanctions are doomed to fail.
The signs of our successful strategy are everywhere. In the coming weeks, I hope to travel on the new United Airlines non-stop flight to San Francisco, to promote even deeper engagement between our two world-class tech hubs – Silicon Valley and the Start-Up Nation.
Barely a month goes by without a delegation from one of the fifty states – last week it was the Governor of Missouri – arriving in Israel to seek new economic partnerships, and our Embassy is always proud to help.
U.S. leadership also helps to promote peace and ensure Israel’s security by promoting trilateral trade opportunities that open and expand new relationships between Israel and its neighbors. In the foreground are examples like Qualified Industrial Zones and energy, water, and other infrastructure partnerships. Beyond these projects are the opportunities to deepen Israel’s engagement with other trading partners, leveraging Israeli technology advances in water management, agriculture, IT, and biomedicine.
Moreover, it is worth noting that our efforts to defend Israel against boycotts, sanctions and divestment are just one facet of how we defend Israel across the board. We have an ironclad commitment to Israel’s security. We defend Israel from diplomatic attacks across the UN system, and we strengthen Israel’s defense against military attacks with security assistance for F-35s and missile defense programs. This commitment will never waver.
We remain committed to defeat any initiative that has even the faintest scent of anti-Israel or anti-Semitic objectives, because it is the right thing to do, and because it is our solemn commitment or our ally. We will use every tool at our disposal.
One challenge we face at present is that we lack a full arsenal in the fight. It has always been the case that one of our most effective tools to defeat boycotts and delegitimization is the presentation of a political process, negotiations, or some political horizon that gives hope for a two states for two peoples resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Let me be clear: Our unwavering commitment to defend Israel against boycotts and delegitimization does not change, and will not change, but when we have such a tool, our hand is strengthened, not with the core advocates of BDS, who have a truly anti-Israel agenda independent of the conflict, but with those who are persuadable, and there are significant numbers of such people. So it is certainly in Israel’s and our interests to find our way back to negotiations with the Palestinians, and until then, to take steps to keep the two state solution viable for the future and avoid steps, such as settlement construction, that seem to move the parties further away from, rather than closer toward, a two-state solution.
It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway: Palestinians must also demonstrate – through concrete measures like condemning violence, ending incitement and halting international campaigns against Israel – their continued commitment to a two-state solution.
As the situation on the ground attests, the status quo is neither desirable nor sustainable.
In closing, let me restate our vigorous opposition to efforts to isolate or boycott Israel; our demonstrated commitment to defeating such efforts; the proven success of our counter boycott strategy; and our pride in what our two nations have achieved in expanding our common prosperity, and the example that sets for others to follow our lead in deepening economic partnerships with Israel. This is the most effective way to defeat the Boycott movement, and we will remain committed to this path.
Again, I want to thank the organizers for the opportunity to speak here.