By Joe Kennedy III
The United States and Israel have an unshakeable 64-year friendship deeply rooted in our shared values of democracy, human rights, religious freedom, tolerance and our common interest in a peaceful and stable Middle East. A strong, mutually supportive U.S.-Israel relationship has always been and must remain the cornerstone of our Middle East policy. It was recently my privilege to visit Israel, where I had the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, members of the Knesset, and Israelis from across the religious, economic and political spectrum. I found a country that balances the ancient and the modern; a thriving high-tech democracy infused with thousands of years of history and culture sacred to millions of people around the world. I visited state-of-the-art facilities producing electric cars and toured venerated religious sites.
I was deeply humbled by the incredible courage and dignity of everyday Israelis who live, work and raise families in the face of a daily existential threat. I saw that firsthand in Sderot where kindergarteners are protected by reinforced walls and gas filtration systems. I saw it across the country where bus stops double as bomb shelters and enhanced security is a way of life, protecting Israel from the threat of terror.
My experiences made clear to me the scope of the threat that Iran poses to Israel, the Middle East, and the world. Iran’s active pursuit of nuclear weapons, its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and relentless hostility to Israel present the single gravest threat to Israel today. The Iranian nuclear program has the potential to spark a dangerous arms race in a developing but unstable region. Iran’s missiles and sponsorship of terrorism pose serious security threats to the West as well. A nuclear Iran is in no one’s interest.
The United States must continue to ensure that neither Iran, nor any other nation or entity that would seek to threaten Israel’s existence, can ever hope to succeed in achieving that goal. The United States and the international community must stand in solidarity and enforce crippling economic sanctions to make sure that Iran does not achieve the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon. We should seek a nonviolent, diplomatic solution wherever possible, but we must not compromise on the issue of Israel’s security. No option can be off the table in confronting a belligerent Iran.
An important defense against the threat of rockets aimed at Israel is systems like the Iron Dome that have been developed in close cooperation between the U.S. and Israel. I support such collaborations. The continued security cooperation between our two nations – and the lessons learned from the application of such defenses — not only helps Israel protect its citizens but also helps the U.S. protect our own troops.
Another key component of our foreign policy strategy must be a robust foreign aid package that advances vital national security interests and strengthens relations with our allies. Our security assistance to Israel is a critical component of that “soft power.” I support continuing that aid, which allows Israel to maintain its military edge. While providing direct assistance to Israel, the U.S. must continue efforts to ensure that every nation recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state within secure borders.
Every country has the right to designate its own capital, and Israel is no exception. While the U.S. embassy is in Tel Aviv, longstanding U.S. policy is that the permanent status of Jerusalem should be resolved by negotiations. I recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and I hope that one day every country in the world agrees.
An unwavering defense of Israel’s right to exist as the homeland of the Jewish people also requires recognition of a separate Palestinian homeland where the Palestinian people can live in dignity with self-determination. As discussed in my meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, the contours of such a solution must ultimately be negotiated and agreed upon by the parties. The United States must be actively engaged in facilitating that resolution. Efforts to pressure Israel to reach a resolution through boycotts, divestment, sanctions and unilateral actions are misguided and can only lead to further isolation. The United States should oppose such actions.
The United States must also be vigilant about the impact of regional conflicts on Israel’s security. Israel is a good friend in a tough neighborhood, and the United States should work with the international community to reduce regional tensions. In the case of Syria, we must put pressure on the Assad regime to end the brutality of the Syrian government, which has given aid and comfort to Hezbollah and acts as a destabilizing force. While I do not believe that the United States should intervene militarily in Syria, we need to reassess our position as facts on the ground change. I firmly support President Obama’s position that if Assad deploys chemical or biological weapons, military action could become appropriate.
On the economic front, strong trade ties between the U.S. and Israel help promote our shared values, especially our commitment to advancing the human condition through progress and innovation. Massachusetts is home to over 100 companies with Israeli connections, generating over $2.4 billion in direct revenue for the state. Expanding trade with Israel will lead to the creation of jobs and economic growth for the Commonwealth and its citizens. While in Israel, I visited EMC2, the 4th District’s largest employer, which developed the flashdrive technology used by nearly every American with a computer. EMC2 employs over 800 engineers in Israel. Israel’s high-tech and biotech sectors are natural partners for trade and collaboration on cutting-edge technology, research, and investment. As a Member of Congress, I will work to ensure that this relationship grows ever stronger and continues to benefit both countries in the pursuit of peace with prosperity.