Summit showcases shared values, interests between U.S., Israel

State Senator Steven Roberts (back row at center with members of the St. Louis delegation at the Israeli American Council National Summit.

Steven Roberts

Recently, I was honored to address the Israeli American Council (IAC) National Summit, the largest gathering of Israeli Americans in the country, in Hollywood, Fla. Notably, it was the first major Israeli and Jewish American conference since the pandemic, with more than 3,000 people from across the nation in attendance. I felt inspired by joining so many people committed to cooperation and the advancement of shared goals.

At a welcome reception early in the summit, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Col. Golan Vach, commander of the famed Israel Defense Forces’ Search and Rescue Unit, which responded to the tragic condominium collapse in Surfside, Fla., last July. It was inspiring to learn about the unit’s heroic efforts, which marked the first time that the United States has allowed a foreign nation’s army to operate on American soil in a humanitarian mission. 

The experience was emblematic of the rest of my time at the conference, meeting passionate leaders dedicated to the historic friendship between the United States and Israel.

The three-day conference included music, culture and engaging discussions. St. Louis was well-represented by a delegation of more than 20 local leaders, activists and students. Political discussions focused on the shared, strategic partnership between the U.S. and Israel as we confront the twin evils of antisemitism and terrorism together.

I served as a featured panelist for a special forum entitled “Defending Israel is Defending Democracy,” along with Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican, and South Carolina state Rep. Beth Bernstein, a Democrat. The forum was  moderated by noted philanthropist and IAC board member  Adam Milstein. 

My talk focused on how antisemitism and related hate crimes remain a serious threat in the U.S., and evidence that shows that this danger is growing among extremists on both the right and left. 

Specifically, we discussed the dangerous boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which bases its assault on Israel and the Jewish people on a big lie and has unfortunately attracted support from so-called progressives. The BDS movement constitutes discrimination against Israel and its supporters based on national origin. Its hateful disinformation campaign constitutes a thinly veiled attempt to delegitimize, destabilize and eventually eliminate the State of Israel as the eternal homeland of the Jewish people.

BDS applies a uniquely flawed standard against the only Jewish State, while ignoring critical issues elsewhere. Where is the BDS movement for China, where more than one million Muslims were put in concentration camps in Xinyang Province?

The flawed and narrow perspective of the BDS movement is far different from historical protest movements that have sought racial justice, social change and human rights in America and around the world; far different from the causes of equity and justice behind which my fellow Democrats and I have historically aligned ourselves.

During the panel, I also highlighted the longstanding and dynamic relationship between Israel and Missouri. As a state legislator, I have seen how Missouri continues to prosper from the U.S.-Israel relationship. 

Since 1996, Missouri exports to Israel have grown to more than $1.4 billion, with $54 million in manufactured goods in 2020 alone. Companies such as Boeing, Remington and Evraz Oregon Steel Mills, all based in St. Louis, provide crucial exports for the Israeli Defense Forces and keep thousands of Missourians employed. 

Additionally, cooperation between Missouri and Israel is much more than just economic. St. Louis University Medical School and Washington University are among the recipients of grants from the Binational Science Foundation (BSF), which has promoted joint projects between American and Israeli researchers and scientists for more than 50 years. Today, more than $700 million has been awarded to U.S. institutions, funding more than 5,000 projects that have led to important scientific, medical and technological breakthroughs. These instrumental grants have allowed our Missouri-based universities and others around the country to accomplish incredible things. 

The friendships I made at the IAC Summit fortified my strong belief that the partnership between Israel and the U.S. is based on more than just shared strategic concerns. It is also based on shared values, values that are worth defending such as free and fair elections, a free press, freedom of speech, real equality, and inclusion for women, minorities and the LGBTQ community, and the hope that with God’s help, we can shape a future of peace and justice for all.

State Sen. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, is minority whip of the Missouri Senate. In addition to his legislative duties, he manages his law firm and serves as a captain in the JAG Corps with the Missouri Air National Guard.