This interview was conducted by phone with Rep. David Schweikert (R-CD6) on Friday, March 7, 2014.
Jewish News: First of all, the vote on the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, what is the substance of the bill and what convinced you to vote yes?
David Schweikert: There was never a question of whether I was going to vote yes or not. We’ve been involved in that issue, it feels like, my whole life. The importance, I think, right now is trying to absolutely communicate to the world, to the administration, to anyone that might be listening that the U.S. Congress, Republicans and Democrats, care an awful lot about this relationship with Israel and keeping Israel safe.
JN: Is there anything new in the bill?
DS: No. In many ways it’s sort of a restatement of previous — it’s not word for word, but it’s very similar to what we’ve done in the past. The only real difference that’s out there right now is sort of a communication and caveat saying, "Mr. President, you’re engaging in this outreach. Be prepared that if Iran does not meet its obligations that immediately we are prepared to move back to very robust sanctions."
JN: And that’s part of the bill?
DS: No. This is actually part of what was coming as an addition to that, which is a series of letters and also the sanctions legislation that’s out there. The sanctions legislation is frozen in the Senate right now. So many of us House members have put together letters to our leadership ... saying, "Eric Cantor, Steny Hoyer, this is important. We are prepared that if Iran does not meet its obligations, we want the full regime of the sanctions back and we want them back instantly."
JN: Is there a timeline or a deadline?
DS: No, because the trigger there is Iran’s failure to meet its obligations.
JN: And that would be its obligations under existing agreements or under any still to be negotiated?
DS: This is sort of under the multiparty agreement in regards to uranium enrichment and, look, I’m not a fair arbiter of this conversation because I’m very cynical. I’m trying to be as fair as I can.
JN: How do you relate to the pro-Israel community? Are there a variety of different groups that you’re in contact with?
DS: My personal experience may be different than many, just because I grew up in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley. I was surrounded my whole life by folks that had intimate relationships with Israel. I mean, as a child I went to Camp Har Zion on Lincoln. So it was just, I was the token Catholic kid. So it’s always been — and I think Arizona’s special this way — [pro-Israel sentiment has] always been sort of woven into much of our community and I don’t think it’s ever really had a partisan aspect here, just because the Republican Party in Arizona through the ’70s and ’80s always had so much of a pro-Israel bent, and so did the Democratic Party. So we may be somewhat unique in the country because my understanding is that in other places in the country it’s not exactly that way. This is an anecdote, for whatever value it is: One of my warmest memories as a little kid, so this had to be in the early ’70s, I think, there were a number of Israeli farmers who were visiting Arizona because of the irrigation technology. Remember, this was the early days of drip systems. Some of them stayed at our house, and I still have somewhere in my things this photo of a man who ran an agricultural cooperative at a kibbutz riding one of our horses with a cowboy hat on. That was a big deal because Arizona was trying to learn how to grow things with minimal water, and Israel had the technology, so there’s a unique history of us in the desert Southwest and Israel that a lot of the two generations since then don’t know about.
JN: Today, what can congressional action do to help promote some of this interaction between states and Israeli enterprises, particularly when it comes to water?
DS: I think we need to go even broader. The Israeli stock market, the Tel Aviv stock market is one of the most dynamic-growth financial markets in the world right now. How do we continue to learn from their success and do things — look I have this quirky theory and one the things that I have been trying to pitch to some of the folks in the Israeli financial world and the New York-U.S. financial world is we need to — both have very similar corporate governances. Israel leans a little more to the European, the EU, model. I’d like to pull them a little more in our direction. But should we be doing a better job on co-listing stocks, co-listing investments, you know, really working hard on the alignment of common interests? So it’s more than just agriculture and water and security and free democratic people, but even down to financial interests. And there are a couple of hiccups that we have to deal with. Much of the Israeli government’s standards are actually written to European code. And trying to communicate, saying, ‘Look, Europe is one of your big markets, but so is North America.’ Can we get it so that when you come up with a new gadget that it’s not just written to European standards, but it’s written to U.S. standards, so that it has easier entry into our markets and vice versa — because remember we have some products here in Arizona that are ready for export, but we literally have to get them to European regulatory standards to be able to send them into Israel. So it’s sort of alignment of commercial trade codes so that we can continue to expand the economic relationship. So there’s things beyond the security relationship. I believe that when you find a way to make a living together, financially, it also is very bonding. I will give some credit, there are really freaky smart people at the Israeli Embassy in D.C. where we’ve had a couple of businesses that have reached out and said, "Look, we want to sell this in Israel, but the way they’re writing their regs, we don’t qualify." Or "the way they’re doing their procurement code, so it was a government contract." So I think just from a relationship fairness standpoint, we do a brilliant job of defense-related equipment, where we’re very compatible. I want that to be true at every level of procurement.
JN: And you’re using that precise language, procurement, referring to government contracts?
DS: Well, sometimes it’s government, sometimes it’s joint ventures, sometimes, it’s cooperative. It’s just sort of an alignment of interests.