Relations between the United States and Israel embody significant history and shared values. And, as we all know, sometimes those relations consist of disagreements and obstacles. Especially now, when we see neighboring countries collapsing and thousands of people risking their lives in search of a better future, we should remind ourselves that the ability to conduct democratic discussions in democratic institutions can’t be taken for granted.
Political alliances and shared regional interests are commonly believed to be the foundations for bilateral cooperation. The reality is far more wide-ranging. One cannot distinguish anymore between the economic side and the political side of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Since the creation of the State of Israel, and especially in the past two decades, a groundbreaking element has emerged to strengthen these foundations. In terms of its significance many would argue that it is now the most powerful part of U.S.-Israel relations, offering the most promise for progress. This new element is the story of the economic and commercial ties between the Unites States and Israel.
This year we mark two unique occasions that, though different, are very much connected.
Fifty years ago the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce was established with the hope of nurturing and promoting economic and commercial relations between American and Israeli companies. Israel was a young nation, hungry for success and growth; it was only natural that it saw the world’s most vibrant superpower as a partner.
Twenty years after the establishment of the Chamber, the United States signed its first Free Trade Agreement with an overseas nation, choosing for that honor.
Decades later, what has become of these joint efforts?
Statistics and figures are how the business world tells a story. In this story, the numbers are nothing less than phenomenal. When the Free Trade Agreement was signed, mutual trade between the countries was $4.7 billion annually. Today, 30 years later, it is almost $40 billion a year (which is triple what it was less than two decades ago).
Over 1,000 Israeli companies are active in the U.S., supplying over 100,000 jobs in more than 40 states.
Dozens of American corporations have decided to open research and development centers in Israel and the cooperation between American and Israeli companies now involves all circles of life – from food to medicine, cosmetics to cyber-security, biotech to energy, and much more. Israel is the third most represented country on NASDAQ (after the U.S and China) and, despite the fact that it is about the size of New Jersey, Israel is one of the top 16 countries leading direct investments in the U.S. and is one of the America’s top 25 export destinations.
Every year ends with another record, the most recent being the highest number ever of Israeli IPOs on Wall Street. As President Obama said during his trip to Israel, “This is the kind of relationship this country should have with every country in the world.”
It is evident that the growing economic and commercial relations between the United States and Israel turn these relations into a clear alliance. However, this alliance is not dependent solely on the understandings our governments share. These relations, which are so critical for both economies, will not be able to flourish in an atmosphere of rivalry. If public disagreements turn into a political clash trade could be affected. Just as political cooperation creates a financial hub for prosperity, mishandled governmental disputes can damage mutual economic growth. Numbers so significant create great responsibilities.
I know that the issues at stake are vital and critical for both nations. Efforts made on both sides to resolve the disagreements are crucial. Perhaps it is time, during this very special year, to remind ourselves that what we have created in five decades is stronger and more viable than any threat to our future. Maybe we should stress that all degrees of cooperation between our governments and economies should be also taken into consideration and added to the list of elements that are part of the equation of the Washington-Jerusalem talks.
With these figures and given such a story, the responsibility to maintain and enhance our alliance lies as much on the shoulders of our economies as it does on the shoulders of our governments. Everybody can be hurt by mistakes. Together we can prove that the past 50 years, and our recent outstanding results, were only a small indication of the potential our relations can have. It is our obligation – to our shared history and mutual future – to make the right calls and to make the next 50 years count.
Ofra Strauss is the chair of the board of Strauss Group, Israel’s largest food and beverage company and is chair of the Israel-American Chamber of Commerce.