Members of the large congressional delegation met with senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ariel SharonThe three U.S. congressmen admit that they were a bit nervous about coming to Israel. But after spending a week here, first-time visitors Rick Larsen (D-Washington), Bud Cramer (D-Alabama) and Dennis Cardoza (D-California) all said that not only would they return, but they will encourage others to visit.
“I was concerned about my own security. because the images we see on television in the United States are the images of terrorist attacks,” said Rep. Larsen, who had never been to Israel before. “But what I have found here is that it’s relatively safe. We were staying in Jerusalem and it’s as safe as any big city in the world. People get on with every day lives. I would say that Israel has weathered the three years of violence pretty well. I really don’t see the concerns that some people have about visiting Israel.”
His two colleagues agreed.
The three visitors were members of a 29-member delegation of Democratic congressman from the United States House of Representatives who visited Israel this month.
The group was sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a supporting organization of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, and met with Israeli government officials, local businessmen, and defense personnel during their week’s stay.
The main goal of the trip was to provide the Congressmen with first-hand knowledge o the value of the US-Israel relationship.
For Rep. Cramer, Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District, learning about the two countries’ alliance regarding security matters was a top priority.
Cramer said that he has always known that “Israel is strategically very important to the United States.”
Citing 9/11 as the turning point in the American psyche that the world’s No. 1 superpower is not immune to international terrorism, Mr. Cramer noted the 2001 September attacks “made us aware of how important Israel is. … The Israeli government can offer us so much advice about what we’re doing successfully or not so successfully on the war on terrorism.”
Northern Alabama, part of Mr. Cramer’s constituency, is home to the US Army’s missile defense program. “We feel very much that the Israeli government should have
access to our smart missile technologies when it comes to the military applications,” said Mr. Cramer, who was voted by ‘Money’ magazine as “one of America’s best congressmen”. He added that he hopes there will be a “growing relationship with [his] community and the country of Israel”.
Rep. Larsen, Washington State’s Second Congressional District representative also professed Israel’s importance as a strategic ally. “The relationship between the United States and Israel is critically important… we support democracy anywhere in the world and support allies who have strategic interests in common. And Israel is one of those countries,” said Rep. Larsen, who serves on the transportation, infrastructure, armed services and agriculture committees. “As a result the United States must continue to be a partner and assist Israel where Israel wants help to ensure the peace and security of the country.”
Rep. Larsen also sits on subcommittees for terrorism and non-conventional threats. “There is an opportunity to learn some of the lessons on dealing with terror that Israel has unfortunately had to endure and see where
that can apply to our own response to terrorism. The US defense budget includes $28-billion in information technology and research development… there may be opportunities to use portions of this money to help partner between Israeli and US technology companies to further enhance our respective national security
capabilities,” he told Israel21c.
While they came to Israel with security and the peace process on their mind, they were particularly impressed by the development they saw in the area of agriculture.
Both Reps.Larsen and Cardoza said that seeing the Jordan Valley in bloom was inspiring. Both representatives sit on agricultural committees back in the US. “The whole concept of drip irrigation is patented in Israel [yet in the US] we don’t realize where it came from,” said Rep. Larsen. “In the US we go through cycles of rain and drought all the time and I’m sure there are things we can learn from the advances made in Israel to help our agriculture.” In fact, Rep. Larsen has already arranged meetings with his agriculture committee to “find out what we can do to take advantage of the advances Israeli agriculture has made in the last decade.”
Rep. Cardoza, from California’s Central Valley District, is scheduled to meet with 200 businessman immediately upon his return from Israel. He said he hopes to persuade them to look to Israel for contracts in agriculture, technology, or science.
“Right now we have shortages of water but in comparison to Israel we have a plethora of water. We have rivers in almost every corner of the San Joaquin valley where I come from and the weather is almost identical to here in Israel. Yet we don’t utilize our water resources as efficiently as Israel does. So there are tremendous opportunities for us to learn from the Israelis how to better manage our water supplies,” said Rep. Cardoza, who last year was named California’s ‘Legislator of the Year’ for his efforts to help family farms. “Israel is making the desert bloom in agriculture, in science and in hi-tech. the contributions of Israel to the world are critical to the world’s knowledge base.”
Rep. Larsen predicted that when the global economy improves, more partnerships with Israel would occur. “Israel has the highest absolute number of technology start-ups on the Nasdaq — the highest number other than US companies — which shows that Israel will continue to have a strong foundation upon which to build once the global economy gets turned around. I think it is inevitable that part of what will happen when the global economy turns around is that companies in the US and companies in Israel will continue to partner.”
Peace in the region, he added, would further improve Israel’s economy. “There’s no question in my mind that history shows that when peace breaks out anywhere in the world people are in a much better position to benefit economically. …Security in a country and peace in a region helps foster both democracy and economic growth. There’s a lesson there for countries that haven’t yet recognized Israel and for countries that don’t want to deal with Israel, that there’s a great benefit for having peace in this region both from a human development potential and from an economic development potential.”
When he gets home, Rep. Cramer, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he will “tell as many American citizens as I can that they should come here. The people of Israel are our partners. We hope we can see a day and time when they can exist peacefully with their neighbors. We’ve got to help Israel through this tough time. We’re hopeful that his peace process will work. The aftermath of the war on Iraq is much more real now for Americans and I think today we have a lot more in common today with Irael than ever before.”
Rep. Cardoza added, “I will tell people Israel is a fabulous country with a hardworking ethical people who just want to be left in peace and we should do everything we can to support them.”