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A look at N.C.'s political and economic relationship with Israel, pro-Israel groups

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Photos Courtesy of Adobe Stock.

It has been nearly two months since the conflict in Israel and Gaza escalated and questions have arisen about the role of individual U.S. states in foreign affairs. Many states, including North Carolina, have connections with Israel and domestic pro-Israel groups independently from the federal government — and some politicians do, too.

In 2021, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — a bipartisan group that aims to get pro-Israel policies passed by U.S. Congress — announced its plans to form a PAC called AIPAC PAC. The group also formed a super PAC called United Democracy Project (UDP), ahead of the 2022 election cycle.

All 14 of North Carolina's current congressional representatives received money from AIPAC PAC during the 2022 election cycle.

Rep. Valerie Foushee (D-NC 4th), who represents Chapel Hill, also received more than $2 million from the United Democracy Project, making her the third-highest recipient of UDP money in the country.

Foushee was singled out by AIPAC and UDP  because one of her opponents in the Democratic primary for the 4th District was Nida Allam, a Durham County commissioner who had expressed criticism for Israel. In AIPAC’s 2022 political achievements fact sheet, Foushee is listed as one of eight pro-Israel candidates who "defeated opponents who would have undermined the U.S.-Israel relationship in Congress."

The House passed H.R. 6126, a $14.3 billion aid package for Israel, passed in the U.S. House in early November with support from all seven North Carolina Republican representatives and Democrat Rep. Don Davis (D-NC 1st),who was also supported by UDP in his primary in 2021 against an opponent critical of Israel.

The proposal rescinded $14.3 billion from the IRS and did not include aid to Ukraine or Gaza.

Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC 12th) is the only member of Congress in North Carolina who signed onto House Resolution 786 on Oct. 19, which called for a cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine. On Dec. 2 — a month and a half after the initial cease-fire resolution  — Foushee signed a letter to President Joe Biden along with 11 other members of Congress calling for a bilateral cease-fire.

Kylie Broderick, a Ph.D. candidate at UNC, is on the executive board for UNC Students for Justice in Palestine. She said she thinks N.C. politicians who have not called for a cease-fire are not responding to the will of the people, which she said sends a message that politicians value profits over their Palestinian and Arab constituents.

“I would warn them that their apathy and cruelty has not gone unnoticed, that activists have long memories,” she said.

North Carolina is one of 36 states that have enacted anti-boycott or anti-BDS legislation, which intends to dissuade or prohibit boycotts against Israel in response to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement that began in 2005.

BDS is a Palestinian-led movement that aims to put economic pressure on Israel and challenge international support for the Israeli government, according to their website.

The N.C. General Assembly passed House Bill 161 — Divestment From Companies That Boycott Israel — which Gov. Roy Cooper later signed into law in 2017. The law prevents all state agencies from investing in or contracting with companies that boycott Israel. 

In 2022 alone, North Carolina imported $303 million worth of Israeli goods, with the largest import being electric machinery. The state exported $146.8 million worth of goods to Israel — mainly pharmaceuticals, organic chemicals and nuclear reactors. North Carolina ranks 19th in the country in exports to Israel.

Barry Swartz is the retired chief operating officer of Conexx, an intermediary organization that helps connect Israeli businesses to seven southeastern states — including North Carolina — and businesses from those states to Israel.

He said the company has facilitated over $4 billion in economic activity between the the Southeast and Israel. He said at least 25 Israeli companies have offices or manufacturing plants in North Carolina.

Phil Brodsky is the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Raleigh, which he said focuses on connecting the Jewish community and providing social services for people in need.

Brodsky said he views North Carolina's relationships with Israel as a positive force, not just for economic growth but for breaking down barriers and building trust between people. He said bringing people together and cultural exchanges helps bring new ideas and perspectives on conflicts.

“That’s how you overcome things like polarization, bigotry, racism, hatred and stereotyping,” he said.

Some N.C. municipalities have participated in U.S.-Israel police exchanges where members of law enforcement travel to Israel to partake in training with the Israel Defense Forces or Israeli police.

Jose Lopez was police chief in Durham from 2007 to 2015 and visited Israel in 2008 to participate in a leadership training program sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League.

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 In 2018, Durham became the first city in the United States to ban police from engaging in international exchanges with Israel police or defense forces.  

While local governments do not dictate foreign policy, other municipalities have clarified their positions on the conflict. The Town of Carrboro passed a resolution on Nov. 14 calling for a cease-fire. It passed 4-3, with council members Susan Romaine and Randee Haven-O’Donnell and mayor-elect Barbara Foushee voting against it.

Danya Holtzman, who is on the leadership team of the Triangle chapter of Jewish Voices for Peace, said although she understands municipalities can't make unilateral decisions on foreign affairs, she would like to see more representatives take a stronger stance for human rights and use the power they’re given to call for a cease-fire.

“Each elected official has an element of power to change the narrative that individual citizens don't necessarily have,” she said.

@fanning_sophia 

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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