US-Israel economic ties strong, but political tension palpable, says Strauss

Over 1,000 Israeli companies operate in the US, employing over 100,000 employees in over 40 states.

March 24, 2015 20:39
2 minute read.
Washington DC

Ofra Strauss, chairman of the Israel-American Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Political tensions between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are palpable in the business world, according to Ofra Strauss, chairwoman of the Israel-American Chamber of Commerce and Israel’s Strauss Group.

“I feel that everyone is waiting for a change [in the relationships] at the top of the pyramid,” she told The Jerusalem Post in a phone call from Washington on Tuesday. “When it comes to the pyramid itself, business- to-business dealings, I felt that it’s business as usual.”

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Strauss was in the US capital to speak at the SelectUSA Investment summit, which aims to encourage foreign investment in the US.

“I have to say that we as the Israeli delegation felt really more than welcome,” said Strauss, who was part of a 22-person Israeli delegation that included representatives from Teva, ThetaRay, Zemingo, AMCHAM and Dream Pretzels. “I can just imagine how great it could be when the relationship warms up.”

Americans are pragmatic when it comes to business, she said, so political tensions should not harm the US-Israel economic relationship.

Nevertheless, politics were clearly present, Strauss said.

“We would prefer to have a completely different political relationship,” she said.

“It used to be that coming here, Israelis were always the favorite kids on the block when it came to the government.

Not having that – I don’t think it will hurt the economic ties, but it doesn’t help because it reaches every person who lives here, even outside the government. It touches the consumer, the banks – it’s the people.”

In the face of political problems, Strauss called for increasing economic cooperation between the US and Israel.

“Now, in light of the diplomatic tension, we need to strengthen the economic ties between Israel and the United States to show that the connection between the nations and between the companies is stronger than any difference of opinion,” she said.

The United States is Israel’s single-most important trade partner, although Europe surpasses it when taken as a whole. More than 1,000 Israeli companies operate in the US, employing some 100,000 employees in about 40 states. Israel is one of the top 20 exporters to the US, and trade has tripled since mid-1990s to roughly $40 billion. Last year, 14 Israeli companies went public in the US.

Things could still be improved, Strauss said. Business visas could be more accessible, and the 30-yearold bilateral Free Trade Agreement – America’s first – could be updated, she said.

Israel could also learn a thing or two from the US in rolling out the red carpet for foreign investors, Strauss said, something the new government should prioritize.

“The most important mission of the new government is fixing what has to be fixed,” she said. Everything, not just defense, but also business and the economy and the cost of living.”

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