Timing of Abbott’s Trip to Israel Seen as Political Message to Obama

By Anna Wiernicki | January 20, 2016

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Friday wrapped up a trip to Israel and Switzerland this week in an effort to promote Texas business.

Abbott and First Lady Cecilia Abbott met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday in Jerusalem to discuss the Texas-Israel relationship in regards to Iran. Abbott told Netanyahu that he plans to propose new laws during the 2017 legislative session that would prohibit state agencies and local municipalities from investing in Iran.

“It all revolves around the issue of the challenges Israel is having with Iran,” Abbott said in a phone interview on Friday morning. “I have ordered state agencies to continue to either divest or not invest in any investments in Iran, and I will be seeking to expand that in the next legislative session. That’s a way that we can show good faith and collaboration with Israel while also not providing money to a country that calls America the evil empire.”

Abbott’s meeting comes one week after President Obama’s “Iran Nuclear Deal” lifted oil and financial sanctions on Iran, something Israel has openly opposed.

“We wanted to discuss that the common bond in relationships that Texas has with Israel, both with philosophical issues with regard to the challenges they are facing with Iran, as well as economic issues,” Abbott said. “I spent a lot of time with the Prime Minister as well as many other officials with businesses in Israel talking about economic development.”

Jeremi Suri, a professor with the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin, said the timing of Abbott’s trip is very important in the message that he believes the Governor is trying to send.

“Israel is a relatively small business partner for Texas,” Suri said. “So, one of the main goals of the Governor in going to Israel was also to win points with certain political constituencies that are concerned about the President’s policies towards Iran. So this was a way of making a statement about U.S. foreign policy and critiquing President Barack Obama.”

On Friday, Abbott admitted that his most important part of the trip was meeting with Netanyahu, but he said he also spent a lot of his time promoting Texas business.

“I’ve met with countless CEO’s and world leaders and talked about ways in which we can work collaboratively to create more jobs in the state of Texas, especially outside of the energy sector,” Abbott said. “Our goal right now is to continue to diversify the Texas economy to get us away from the results of the low price of oil and gas.”

One of the businesses Abbott toured in Israel was IDE Technologies desalination plant. The company, based in Israel, has recently started to do projects in Texas to help the Lone Star State solve the problems it has had with water supply, similar to the problems Israel has faced.

“All Texans remember the drought of 2011 and the challenges we’ve had,” Mark Ellison, Texas Director of Sales for IDE Technologies said. “Well Israel’s had to live with that for generations now. And so one of the things that Governor Abbott left us with and challenged us is to be able to marry up the technology and know-how of Israeli water companies with the needs and the know-how of Texas companies, to be able to make sure that we’ve got water supply security in the state of Texas.”

Ellison accompanied Abbott during part of his trip in Israel. Ellison said he was impressed with the Governor’s passion to strengthen Texas’ business partnership with Israel, America’s strongest ally in the region.

“We need to stick with them,” Ellison said. “We face some common threats around the world, and Israel is going to be our partner to be able to address that. We can do that at the same time as we expand our relationships with them commercially and on a spiritual basis going forward. We’ve got a strong relationship and it’s getting stronger.”

Governor Abbott wrapped up his trip on Friday in Switzerland where he attended the World Economic Forum.

This is Abbott’s third international trip since taking office last January, and his first international trip of the New Year. He has also traveled to Mexico and Cuba as part of his initiative to promote Texas businesses abroad.

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