By Ben Tinsley
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott covered a lot of ground last month during the much-publicized trip to Israel that resulted in a face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The results of the governor’s journey range from the promotion of business solidarity between Israel and Texas to a very strong stance against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement moving across campuses in the Lone Star State.
“We find it offensive that actions like this (BDS) are taken, that are hostile to Israel,” the governor said during a Jan. 27 interview. “ … You can be looking for action from my office to try to take action against that movement on campuses.”
Sam Taylor, Abbott’s deputy press secretary, released the interviews with the governor to the Texas Jewish Post.
If Gov. Abbott does pursue legal action against perpetrators of the BDS movement, Texas would join at least five states that have already outlawed BDS — Tennessee (the first state to adopt anti-BDS legislation), Florida, New York, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
The Tennessee resolution declares that the BDS movement is “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state,” adding that BDS activities in Tennessee “undermine the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, which they are fulfilling in the State of Israel.”
At least 35 other states are in the process of considering similar legislation.
In October 2015, France’s highest court of appeals confirmed earlier rulings that found promoters of BDS guilty of inciting hate or discrimination.
Without a legal remedy to help fight the efforts of BDS to delegitimize Israel on their respective campuses, Jewish high school and college students in Texas right now are forced to rely on their respective communities or synagogue leaders for help, advice and training.
For many young Jews, the prospect of having to face a crowd of people yelling statements at her such as “You stole our land” or “Palestine has always been an Arab country” is terrifying.
“I’m not a big fan of confrontations,” Rachel Rudberg, a 20-year-old junior nursing student who is president of TCU Hillel, said recently. “If I ran into somebody in a situation like that, I am not sure how I would respond.”
With no legal leg to currently stand on, members of Texas Jewish communities have developed strategic approaches to countering these assaults and develop innovative efforts to change the conversation and achieve peace and security regarding Israel.
But Abbott, in the Jan. 27 interview, pledged to help.
“It was discussed with the prime minister, as well as other leaders in Israel,” Abbott said. “… I made very clear to the prime minister that he has no greater ally on the globe than Texas.”
The governor’s late January trip, conducted primarily to strengthen commercial ties between Texas and Israel, made major headlines last month — especially the governor’s use of billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s plane to fly to both Switzerland and Israel.
Clare Freeman, president and CEO of the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce, said the business relationship between Texas and Israel is great and only getting better.
“I think that relationship can only grow,” she said. “What Israel offers Texas is an advancement in the way we do things, water management, ecosystem development, cyber security, all kinds of stuff. … It’s a very bright future.”
On Jan. 19, the governor announced he had attended a luncheon hosted by the Israeli Consulate of the Southwest to discuss investment, economic development and strengthening commercial ties between Texas and Israel.
Shortly after that, and with his wife, Cecilia Abbott, the governor flew to Israel and Switzerland on Adelson’s plane.
In Israel he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and various Israeli government and business leaders.
While in Israel, Abbott toured the world’s largest desalination plant in Sorek, Israel, and met with Israeli energy officials to discuss the seawater reverse osmosis process.
He also met with representatives from Elbit Systems, Ltd. to discuss the development of new military technologies.
Additionally in Israel, Gov. Abbott announced his opposition to Iran and announced a series of proposed laws he intends to urge state lawmakers to pass in 2017 that are intended to curb public funds from flowing to Iran.
Also during the trip, the governor attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to promote Texas economic interests.
An article published in Israel NewTech recounted how several of the Israeli business leaders met with Gov. Abbott during the trip. Many of them were emphatic about the Texas-Israel commercial relationship.
“Texas is a key target market for Israel’s clean tech industry, because it is a leader in alternative energy, houses the headquarters of numerous energy powerhouses, and runs a large number of alternative energy projects,” Eliezer Kliatzkin, CEO of Israeli wind energy company Winflex, told the publication.
Winflex was one of 15 Israeli water and alternative energy companies who met with Gov. Abbott at an event during his visit to Israel, which Israel NewTech stated was initiated by the Israeli Economic Office in Houston, and organized by Israel NewTech, the Israel Export Institute, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce.
Clare Freeman said the current work of the Delek Group, Delek U.S. and Delek Israel is also indicative of the Texas-Israel business partnership.
“They partnered with Noble Energy of Houston on the discovery of natural gas in Israel (which led to the beginning of Israel’s natural gas market),” Freeman said. “They are working together on the development of the Leviathan gas field right now.”
The Leviathan gas field is a large natural gas field located in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel. According to some commentators, the gas find has the potential to possibly allow Israel to become a major energy player in the Middle East.
“Also Delek just purchased a controlling interest in Elan USA,” she said. “Delek US also owns a bunch of convenience stores and they bought MAPCO out of Nashville.”
In the interviews released by his office, Gov. Abbott pledged to continue to look to create more jobs in the state.
Abbott added he has great respect for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the incredible potential there is for expanding the Texas-Israel relationship even farther.
“I was so impressed with what was going on in the country,” he said.
The governor’s office released an online video highlighting the visit at youtu.be/VsKjDiiek0E.