Herzog, VP Harris announce $70 million agriculture tech fund for Mideast, Africa

Five-year initiative will focus on water resources, ‘climate-smart’ agriculture technology; Veep stresses ‘unbreakable bond’ between countries

US Vice President Kamala Harris shakes hands with President Isaac Herzog as they speak to the media prior to a meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, July 19, 2023. (SAUL LOEB / AFP/File)
US Vice President Kamala Harris shakes hands with President Isaac Herzog as they speak to the media prior to a meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, July 19, 2023. (SAUL LOEB / AFP/File)

WASHINGTON — Standing alongside a visiting President Isaac Herzog, US Vice President Kamala Harris announced a new joint five-year initiative between the US and Israel in which each country will invest up to $35 million “to support climate-smart agriculture through innovative technologies and improved capture, storage, use, and protection of critical water resources in the Middle East and Africa.”

“This investment in innovative solutions for sustainable food production and water use augments existing cooperation between our two countries and will help build resilient food systems and address the climate crisis around the globe,” she said.

“Options for impact programming will potentially include employing these technologies alongside partners, such as Negev Forum and I2U2 participants, bringing existing technologies or techniques to scale, expanding access to certain tech tools or apps, and/or investing in training, technical assistance, and education,” a White House official said earlier.

Harris made the comments in front of reporters ahead of her private meeting with Herzog.

The vice president emphasized the “unbreakable bond” between the two countries and America’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security.

She also said countering Iran was the “highest priority” and that she would discuss the issue with Herzog.

The Sorek A desalination plant, located south of Tel Aviv, on November 22, 2018. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

There were subtle notes of disagreement amid the harmonious atmosphere in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Wednesday. 

Harris noted the “work we will do to ensure Israelis and Palestinians can live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy,” a common refrain from administration officials.

She also referenced the need to “strengthen our respective democracies and democratic institutions.”

US President Joe Biden and other top officials have raised concerns about the direction of Israel’s democracy if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition finalizes its judicial overhaul, which will curb the judiciary’s independent powers, a cornerstone of democracy, and bring most judicial appointments under political control.

The White House official said that Harris will raise in her meeting with Herzog “the climate crisis and food security, the threats posed by Iran, Israel’s normalization with countries in the region, Palestinian issues including security in the West Bank, combatting antisemitism, and strengthening our democracies and democratic institutions.”

Harris and Herzog have spoken by phone four times since Herzog took office in 2021.

Sen. Kamala Harris, left, hosted by Israeli PM Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office, November 2017 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

In his remarks following Harris, Herzog recalled hosting the vice president in Israel in 2017 when she was a US senator and predicting that she would rise the ranks in US politics.

“I’m so happy I was right,” said a smiling Herzog.

“I am too,” Harris quipped in return.

“I’ll never forget that day and the time we spent together and what we talked about in terms of our optimism and investment in the future of the world, and in that context, the importance of the strength of the relationship between the United States and Israel,” Harris said about that visit.

The Israeli president thanked Harris and her husband, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, for their efforts to combat antisemitism.

Emhof has become one of the administration’s point people on the issue. Last fall, Biden hosted a White House summit against hate-fueled violence. Emhoff led a White House discussion with Jewish community leaders last December to discuss the rise in antisemitism and how to counteract it. Days later, Biden created a government working group to develop the new strategy.

In his remarks ahead of the meeting with Harris, Herzog also emphasized his support for regional and global cooperation to combat climate change, noting his own efforts to bring Israelis from across the political spectrum together in order to address the phenomenon.

US Vice President Kamala Harris and Israeli President Isaac Herzog speak prior to a meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC, July 19, 2023. (Chris Kleponis)

He focused on the potential that cooperation between the countries could have for the region and for the world.

“Let’s work together to do well for humanity and of course, strong relations between the United States and Israel,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the Senate and House Abraham Accords Caucuses met with Herzog after his address to Congress. Led by Democrat Jacky Rosen of Nevada and James Langford of Oklahoma, the bipartisan group celebrated Israel’s 75th anniversary and the growth of the Abraham Accords.

“For 75 years, the United States’ support for Israel has been – and will continue to be – steadfast, unwavering, and bipartisan,” said the members in a statement. “Today, we’re proud to come together across party lines to meet with President Herzog and reaffirm the unbreakable bond and friendship between our two nations.”

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