JUF board member Steve Lavin receives award from America-Israel Chamber of Commerce

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Acceptance speech upon receipt of the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce Business Leadership Award

JUF Board Member Steve Lavin

Oct 17, 2012

Thank you Mark [Gaines]. Thank you. Congratulations to Michael [Traison, co-winner]. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce, the Israeli Consul General, my Congressman Bob Dold, my family, especially my lovely and very supportive wife Dawn, my fraternity brothers, my Nachshon brothers, OSI, my families company, SNR Denton, AON, Bank Leumi, Bunzl, and all of you. My only regret is that my mother, Sylvia Lavin and my friend Richard Schoenstadt, are not alive to join us here this evening.


Many people ask, WHY ISRAEL? Why time spent on promoting Israel? Why time spent on promoting the American-Israel strategic relationship? Why time spent on promoting the American Israel economic relationship? Why time spent on safeguarding Israel and her people?

The US and Israel are bound together based on common goals and values. But to better understand why, it is necessary to understand the Jewish people. To do so in the time permitted, I want to share with you a statement made by someone else.  

"The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews. Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem. (the Arab States did it to its Jews) Russia did it, Poland and Czechoslovakia did it. Turkey threw out a million Greeks and Algeria a million Frenchmen. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese and no one says a word about refugees. But in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single one....

Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious, it must sue for peace. Other nations, when they are defeated, survive and recover, but should Israel be defeated it would be destroyed. Had Nasser triumphed in June of 1967, he would have wiped Israel off the map, and no one would have lifted a finger to save the Jews. No commitment to the Jews by any government, including our own, is worth the paper it is written on....When Hitler slaughtered Jews no one demonstrated against him. The Jews are alone in the world. If Israel survives, it will be solely because of Jewish efforts. And Jewish resources. Yet at this moment, Israel is our only reliable and unconditional ally. We can rely more on Israel than Israel can rely on us. And one has only to imagine what would have happened (in 1967 or 1973) had the Arabs and their Russian backers won the war, to realize how vital the survival of Israel is to America and the West in general. I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the Holocaust will be upon us all."

The author is, Eric Hoffer, a non-Jewish, longshoreman turned author and philosopher, and a winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Our safety, security and prosperity are very much co-dependent upon one another as is Israel's. Israel is, and will remain, the front line of defense of American security. A special relationship between two countries, more than just allies. No country votes on major issues in the United Nations more with the United States than Israel. No country cooperates and shares more on intelligence, training and technological breakthroughs than between the United States and Israel. For many years, US-Israel military ties were non-existent. This began to change with the Kennedy administration and more significantly with the Johnson administration after the 1967 war, when the US agreed to do something that it still does to this day---provide Israel with a qualitative military edge over its neighbors.

The strategic value of the special relationship to the United States dramatically expanded when in 1970, President Nixon, called on none other than Israel, to rush to the aid and support for King Hussein of Jordan, so that political stability could be maintained in that country. Ronald Reagan forged a new path and expanded reliance upon Israel to help the US, in America's national interest, to end the Cold War. When the first Bush administration was frustrated with the inoperability of the the US defense project to build the Arrow Missile Defense system they turned to Rafael Industries in Israel, a company wholly owned by the State of Israel, to develop new software and modifications to the hardware, resulting in a successful missile defense system. All subsequent administrations continued on the same path.

It is important that all facets of the American-Israel relationship not only continue, but continue to grow and prosper for the sake of America, as well as for Israel---not just for strategic reasons, but for economic reasons as well.

Just as she did for strategic reasons, America, slowly and then rapidly, intervened in the Israeli economic system. This included aid totaling some $3.2B for the first 25 years of the State of Israel. The next 40 years saw the aid provided by the US to Israel exceeding an additional $100B. Aid provided, not solely based on need, but rather to what has become important for both countries. Over $75B of that aid was spent in the United States, buying US military and other products and creating over 20,000 new direct American jobs, plus thousands of additional jobs created at suppliers and businesses in related fields.  

The first free trade agreement ever signed by the United States was the one signed in 1985 with Israel, which served as a model for subsequent free trade agreements, including those between the United States and Jordan, Canada and Mexico. Jointly funded programs such as the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund, which has provided over a quarter of a billion dollars for some 1,000 projects in 45 States, and generated over $1B in revenue, focusing on increasing agricultural productivity, plant and animal health and food quality and safety, is important to all of us as well as to Illinois businesses like my families' business, OSI Group. Or one that provides funding to companies to expand R &D and trade like that my law firm has worked with on behalf of our clients, the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation, have been very successful, having provided funding to more than four hundred R&D projects, helping to create new products and new jobs throughout the US. In 1972, the Binational Science Foundation was formed to promote relations and cooperation between scientists of the two countries and promoting scientific excellence at the highest levels. Since then, the BSF has awarded over half a billion dollars through more than 4,000 grants in 45 States and the District of Columbia. The work funded by these research grants to joint ventures led to producing discoveries made by the University of Illinois Chicago, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Argonne National Lab and my alma mater, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, to over 75 discoveries resulting in 37 Nobel Prizes.

In 2010 alone, Illinois companies' military financing contracts with Israel exceeded $123M and Illinois exports to Israel were over $183M. Over the past 16 years, Illinois companies have exported over $4B of goods to Israel.

The American-Israel Chamber of Commerce Chicago, is here to serve your businesses and all businesses to develop relationships with Israeli companies and foster trade. Manufacturers, distributors, wholesales, retailers, professional and business service providers, venture capitalists, investment bankers (like my son Michael at Mesirow Financial) and R&D scientists (like my rocket scientist, Technion research alum, son Alex) all can benefit from doing business with Israeli companies, as hundreds of companies have already done.

Israel is isolated in the world. The key to maintaining the strength of the special relationship between the United States and Israel is through involvement. Political involvement is essential through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and I urge all of you to join. Educational involvement is essential through the American Israel Education fund, a charity that educates our current and future leaders, critical particularly as approximately one third of new Congressmen and woman do not even have passports when they enter office, let alone experiences to help them vote on foreign policy; and the American Israel Chamber of Commerce to strengthen and grow our economic ties.

Israel MUST, like the US, stay strong and vibrant---be safe and secure---and a great place for Americans to do business. That can ONLY be achieved--- by the United States standing strong with Israel, politically, financially and militarily.

As elections approach I urge all of you to vote with the importance of this special relationship in mind, as it is central to the safety, security and we'll being of Israel and America.

Thank you.


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