Israel may be looking to Louisiana companies for help extracting natural gas found in the Mediterranean Sea.
Gov. John Bel Edwards met with Israel’s energy minister Yuval Steinitz in Jerusalem Sunday (Oct. 28) to discuss how Louisiana companies could assist Israel with removing the natural gas. The governor said he wants Israel to be energy independent, which would make the small country less dependent on its neighbors in the Middle East.
“They’re looking for experience and expertise and, of course, we’ve been doing that in Louisiana for a long time,” Edwards said.
Edwards is currently visiting Israel to map out the details. Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, who is in Israel with the governor, said the meeting with Israeli energy officials was meant to establish a relationship that will hopefully lead to a follow up meeting. Energy executives already operating in Israel are also scheduled to chat with the governor and others from Louisiana Thursday, according to a press release.
“We have some opportunities for Louisiana companies to potentially catch the eye of Israel,” Dardenne said.
The meeting with Israel’s energy minister is part of a week long-trade mission Edwards is taking to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Edwards is expected to meet with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday, according to a press release sent by the governor’s staff.
Before the business meetings began, Edwards and his wife, Donna, took in some religious sites and tourist attractions on the trip. The governor and first lady visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance center, and attended mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which Christians recognize as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
“It is a tremendous opportunity for me and Donna, as practicing Catholic Christians, to come over and actually see the places we’ve been reading about and studying about and praying about all of our lives,” Edwards said.
International business relations hasn’t always been easy for Louisianan politicians. Dealings are often fraught with controversy. Just in January, the NEw Orleans city council caused major backlash with it’s Pro-Palestinian stance. They faced a torrent of criticism for its decision to unanimously approve a resolution pushed by the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee that critics say is an effort to marginalize Israel.
The language of the resolution, which the Palestinian Solidarity Committee said was drafted in cooperation with Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell’s council office after several meetings with her, does not specifically mention Israel. But it does resolve to create a committee to “review direct investments and contracts for inclusion on, or removal from, the city’s list of corporate securities and contractual partners.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu, in a statement later Friday, said the resolution was “ill advised, gratuitous and does not reflect the policy of the city of New Orleans.” He also said his administration won’t change contracting policies.
A spokeswoman for the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, Caitrin Gladow, said the resolution’s language is consistent with a movement known as Boycott, Divest and Sanctions, or BDS, which she said has been used to advance anti-Israel causes. She described the movement as divisive and opposed to the goals of the organization, which believes in “a two-state solution.”
The local Jewish Federation was also sharply critical of the council’s decision to suspend the rules to add the resolution to the agenda, which didn’t give the Jewish Federation time to review the resolution and assemble opposition to speak at Thursday’s meeting.
One of the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee members specifically mentioned Middle East politics ahead of the council vote, saying the City Council shouldn’t invest in companies such as Caterpillar because its equipment has been used to bulldoze the homes of Palestinians. In an interview, The Palestinian Solidarity Committee’s Tabitha Mustafa, said that the resolution isn’t aimed at Israel specifically.
“There’s no effort to marginalize Israel, but there’s certainly an effort to make sure that the city is not contracting with companies or institutions that violate human rights,” Mustafa said. “If Israel is one of those countries,” she added, then the city should divest.
The association with the BDS movement is what’s prompting much of the backlash against the council’s action, including from U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, state Sen. Conrad Appel, both Republicans, and the Anti-Defamation League. Cassidy said in a statement Friday that the resolution “is rooted in anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel.
“This measure stands in solidarity with a Palestinian government that routinely sponsors and encourages terrorism,” Cassidy said. “I hope the council recognizes their error and reverses this misguided decision.”
It’s not clear that council members realized how controversial the resolution would become. City Councilwoman Susan Guidry said during the meeting that she didn’t have time to review the resolution and understand its implications. On Friday, Councilwoman Stacy Head, who co-sponsored the resolution, also said she didn’t fully grasp the reaction that started unfolding late Thursday.
“When I saw it early this week, I naively thought it was yet another example of the Council’s historical pattern of putting forward feel-good resolutions, which have no legal effect,” Head said in a statement. “I took the resolution’s language at face value without understanding its intent. My co-sponsorship should not be taken as a slight to the Jewish community in New Orleans, which continues to contribute so much to our city.”
In his statement, Landrieu said his administration “has been and will remain committed to human rights both in New Orleans and across the globe.” He said since the council’s vote he’s “heard a variety of concerns from a cross-section of constituents about the potential impact of this resolution on our community.”
Cantrell spokesman David Winkler-Schmit said the resolution came as the result of the Welcoming Cities effort. In 2015, Cantrell pushed through a resolution to officially designate New Orleans as a place open to immigrants and non-English speakers.
“There is absolutely no intention on the part of the mayor-elect to be a part of any process that would be considered anti-Israel,” Winkler-Schmit said, adding that resolutions do not have the power of law and only mark the potential starting point in the process to draft an ordinance. He did not indicate any such ordinance was planned.
The Anti-Defamation League agreed, issuing a statement criticizing the process.
“The Council’s adoption of this resolution without any public notice or the opportunity to promote alternative views was both a deep disappointment and a one-sided, undemocratic process,” the group said. “Although this measure does not reference BDS or Israel, it is clear from video of the hearing what supporters for this controversial measure thought it was about.”
City Councilman Jason Williams, whom the Palestinian Solidarity Committee said introduced the resolution, sought to portray the resolution as similar to past efforts to encourage governments to divest from South Africa to protest apartheid. But pro-Israel critics have cautioned against aligning anti-apartheid movements with the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions effort.
“South African apartheid rigidly enforced racial laws,” Benjamin Pogrund, the author of a book investigating accusations of apartheid in Israel, wrote in the New York Times in March. “Israel is not remotely comparable.”
Williams issued a statement Friday afternoon.
“My support of this measure was not, and is not, intended to in any way be reflective of either an anti-Israel or pro-BDS sentiment,” Williams said. “Any process or examining committee will be locally rooted and made up of New Orleanians from every walk of life.”
Max Geller, a member of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee and the Jewish Voice for Peace, disagrees. He said he thinks the apartheid description is apt, and he questioned why the Jewish Federation released a statement that described BDS as having “inherently anti-Semitic components” and “designed to challenge Israel’s economic viability and very right to exist.”
“I don’t understand what the Jewish Federation is so afraid of. If their position is that Israel isn’t committing Israeli human rights abuses, they have nothing to worry about,” Geller said. He described the City Council’s resolution as a broad effort among several different causes in the city to target countries and companies that engage in human rights abuses, including Honduras.