Congress Moves to Boost Investment in Israeli Technology

Measure intended as rebuke to BDS movement, Obama administration

An Iron Dome missile interceptor overlooking Haifa, Israel / AP
February 22, 2016

Congress is seeking to boost U.S. investment in Israeli security technologies and other sectors in response to efforts by international anti-Israel groups to promote economic boycotts of the Jewish state, according to a copy of a measure obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

As lawmakers pave the way for U.S. states to divest taxpayer funds from anti-Israel companies, another group of legislators is pushing a measure that would encourage the Obama administration to invest in new Israeli technologies, including those that could prevent cyber security attacks and other national security threats.

The latest measure comes in response to efforts by anti-Israel supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, to convince U.S. companies to stop operating in the Jewish state.

Congressional insiders tracking the new measures said that the efforts are garnering bipartisan support and are aimed at sending a message to the Obama administration, as well as anti-Israel groups, that America remains committed to building U.S.-Israel economic ties.

The latest resolution, which is slated to be considered by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, directs the Obama administration "to explore new agreements with Israel, including in the fields of energy, water, agriculture, medicine, neurotechnology and cybersecurity," according to a copy of the measure viewed by the Free Beacon.

It is being spearheaded by Reps. Ted Lieu (D., Calif.), Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), Ted Poe (R., Texas), and Ed Royce (R., Calif.), who chairs the committee.

Leading pro-Israel groups, including the Israel Allies Foundation and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, are backing the measure, sources said.

"This is a major statement from Congress," said EJ Kimball, executive director of the Israel Allies Foundation, an advocacy organization that has been steering the bill on Capitol Hill.

"It shows an understanding that the economic ties with Israel are critical, and that there is more America can do to upgrade these ties and bring even more benefits to the American economy," said Kimball, who praised AIPAC for also backing the measure.

The measure encourages the Obama administration to "regularize and expand existing forums of economic dialogue with Israel and foster both public and private sector participation."

Relations between the U.S. and Israeli governments have soured the past several years as the two countries sparred, primarily over the Iran nuclear agreement, which Israel opposed as dangerous to regional security.

The Obama administration has been criticized for coming out in favor of efforts to label Jewish goods produced in disputed areas of Israel.

The administration issued a directive in January warning the U.S. trade community that it is "not acceptable" to label goods coming from Israeli companies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as having been produced in "Israel."

The White House expressed opposition earlier this month to portions of a new trade bill, which it said were too pro-Israel.

Aaron Menenberg, director of government affairs for the Israel Allies Foundation, explained that lawmakers he worked with "wanted to find a way of boosting U.S. ties with Israel and hammer BDS."

"We saw a particularly unstable Middle East, and Europe had started moving towards making economic troubles for Israel through its labeling notice," he said. "This is just the beginning of legislative moves to boost U.S.-Israel ties because it's an obvious win-win for both parties, and for both countries."

The latest congressional measure hopes to repair U.S.-Israel ties by directing the Obama administration to publicly boost investment in the Israeli economy.

Congress "recognizes that science and technology innovation present promising new frontiers for United States-Israel economic cooperation, particularly in light of widespread drought, cybersecurity attacks, and other major challenges impacting the United States," according to text of the measure.

The United States and Israel have long cooperated on a wide range of projects, primarily those meant to boost the national security of each country. Israel’s Iron Dome missile system was constructed along with the United States, and the two countries continue to work closely on military issues.

Israel is the third largest importer of U.S. goods in the Middle East, despite having just two percent of the region’s population. Israel only ranks behind oil rich Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as top importers of U.S. products.

Israel has more companies publicly listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange than any other country besides China and the United States.

Published under: Congress , Israel