Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu greets former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg at Ben-Gurion Airport, July 23, 2014..
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Over the past few months, the relationship between the US and Israel has been put under a media microscope. Every symbolic gesture, every diplomatic maneuver and every political utterance has been magnified beyond its importance. This has left some Americans and Israelis believing – and those who wish us ill hoping – that the relationship between our countries has become irrevocably strained.
In fact, the relationship between our two countries transcends our national leaders, partisan politics and election campaigns. It is not defined by Congress and the Knesset any more than it is defined by the president and prime minister. Political leaders come and go. Diplomatic dances change rhythm in concert with world events.
Toes, inevitably, get stepped on – giving commentators plenty of fodder. Yet through it all, the US-Israeli bond grows stronger, because it is based not on our inherently different politics, but on our intrinsically common democratic values: free elections, free markets and free speech.
Those values remain under attack in much of the world, and in the Middle East, they are threatened as never before. The rise of the latest terrorist group pledging death to America and Israel, the stateless Islamic State – along with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, civil war in Syria, and unrest throughout the region – present our nations’ leaders with difficult and complicated challenges. It is inevitable that differences of opinion will emerge over how to address them. But the familial tensions that make for good copy should not obscure the unity of purpose that makes our alliance so strong.
To see the true nature of the US-Israeli relationship, you have to look beyond the headlines. Both of us have had the opportunity to see – and support – the increasing business, cultural and philanthropic networks that exist between our countries, including through an organization called the Genesis Prize Foundation.
The Genesis Prize aims to strengthen ties between Israel and the Jewish people in America and worldwide through an award that honors individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who have inspired others through their dedication to Israel and the Jewish community.
Today, we are announcing the winners of a competition we created last year, called the Genesis Generation Challenge, which was designed to assist young people who develop innovative ideas to address pressing problems facing the world. Proposals were submitted by 113 teams from 10 countries, and nine winning teams will receive $100,000 each to get their ideas off the ground. The winners come from the US, Canada and Israel.
Being Jewish or Israeli wasn’t a requirement to enter the contest. The only requirement was that the ideas reflect Jewish values that are universal – freedom, justice, innovation, community – that have served Israel and the US so well since the earliest days of our nations.
One winning team, for instance, is called “Build Israel and Palestine.” This team is composed of Jews and Arabs who seek to enlist others like them to invest in infrastructure projects in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Another winning team is developing a smartphone that could be controlled by people who do not have the use of their hands.
A third team aims to develop a competition to crowdsource for an app that would better enable tracking and monitoring of the health conditions for those with ALS disease. Yet another project is funding “impact investing” in Israeli social enterprises.
The Genesis Generation Challenge is one of the countless partnerships between American and Israeli citizens, many of them in the tech industry. The Genesis competition showcases the eagerness and dedication of everyday citizens who seek to better their world.
Israel’s leading research university – the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology – is teaming up with Cornell University to open an applied science and engineering campus in New York City. Amazon opened a research and development center in Israel this year. Both countries are hotbeds for start-ups that are advancing knowledge and opportunity – among the greatest weapons we have in the battle against terrorism.
The tech industry is far from alone. Ties are growing stronger between Israelis and Americans in every line of work, and recent political events have done nothing to slow this trend. More than 1,000 Israeli companies operate in the US, with about 100,000 employees – and trade between our countries reached record highs in recent years.
The US-Israeli relationship is strengthened with each business deal, joint research project and philanthropic partnership. Elected officials, of course, play an important role, too. But they too often overshadow the quiet diplomacy that our citizens engage in every day. These citizen-led efforts form an integral part of the bond between our countries. And – no matter which way the political winds are blowing – they play a vital role in unifying our nations against the threat of violent extremism.Former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg was awarded the first-ever Genesis Prize in May 2014 in Jerusalem. Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky heads the Selection Committee of the Genesis Prize.