Rep. Ro Khanna speaks on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, April 11, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Tasos Katopodis-Getty for
Rep. Ro Khanna speaks on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, April 11, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Tasos Katopodis-Getty for

Ro Khanna says he warned Israeli president that Silicon Valley VCs are now wary of investing in Israel

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This article originally appeared on Haaretz. Sign up here to get Haaretz’s free Daily Brief newsletter delivered to your inbox.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat who represents Silicon Valley, said at a town hall meeting in San Jose Monday that he warned Israeli President Isaac Herzog that venture capital firms are concerned about investing in Israel as new high-tech investment is in decline amid Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul.

Khanna, whose district includes most of the 50,000 Israeli Americans residing in the Bay Area, was asked by Israeli expats donning shirts from the UnXeptable protest movement about what Congress can do to preserve Israeli democracy — particularly given the strong Israeli presence in Silicon Valley and the economic ties between the U.S. and Israel.

The lawmaker said he conveyed this point to both Herzog and his brother, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog, during the president’s recent visit to Washington to address Congress.

“I said one of the things that’s happening is the high-tech investment in my district is leaving Israel,” Khanna said.

“A lot of my venture capital friends and a lot of my tech friends … are now concerned about putting the same amount of investment [into Israel],” he added. “It’s not just a democracy issue, but it’s an economic issue because you’re very proud of the start-up culture that Israel has.”

Khanna has faced criticism from progressive Democratic activists for praising the Israeli high-tech sector and visiting Israel in the face of growing human rights concerns, while failing to co-sponsor legislation relating to oversight on U.S. military aid to Israel.

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He has maintained positive relationships with both Israeli and Palestinian officials over his focus on utilizing tech and economic development to kickstart peace efforts, all while condemning the occupation and actively pushing for a two-state solution.

“Many of us in Congress have written letters and will continue to speak out about the importance of an independent judiciary that upholds rights. I certainly believe that Israel is a friend and ally, but we want to have that grounded around democracy and the rule of law,” he noted.

“The court is a key component of that in Israel because they don’t have a written constitution so the court provides some of that check. I will continue to be a voice for that position as will many in Congress and I had conveyed some of that directly to President Herzog,” Khanna added.

His comments are the latest in a steady uptick of Congressional outspokenness on Israel’s judicial overhaul in recent days. A significant number of Democratic lawmakers have condemned Israel’s overturning of the so-called reasonableness standard last week, which abolished the Supreme Court’s authority to strike down government decisions it deems unreasonable.

Since then, leading Democrats have introduced a concurrent resolution supporting the pro-democracy protest movement and Rep. Jan Schakowsky became the first sitting member of Congress to address a weekly pro-Israeli democracy protest on U.S. soil.

Khanna’s candid remarks to the UnXeptable demonstrators’ question, alongside Schakowsky’s presence at the demonstration, is just the latest example of the Israeli pro-democracy protest movement establishing a further foothold with Democratic members of Congress. UnXeptable co-founder Offir Gutelzon attended Herzog’s speech as a guest of Rep. Barbara Lee, and Rep. Jerry Nadler wore an UnXeptable “Saving Israeli Democracy” pin on the House floor.

Israel’s Supreme Court will convene on Sept. 12 to hear petitions on the new law, effectively putting U.S. lawmakers on a six-week timeline to further speak out against the judicial overhaul.

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

Ben Samuels is U.S. correspondent for Haaretz. Follow him on Twitter.