Rex Tillerson’s Israel positions have received less attention than his connections to Russia, but they’re getting more scrutiny now that Donald Trump has chosen him as his nominee for Secretary of State.
Trump announced the appointment – which has to get through the U.S. Senate – on December 13, praising the Exxon Mobil CEO’s global deal-making skills.
The choice of Tillerson is worrying some prominent Jewish leaders for a variety of reasons. Among them: Tillerson’s ties to Arab countries as an oil executive, his links to Russia, and his silence on questions about Israel.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Tillerson Has Forged Ties to Sunni Arab & Gulf States as an Oil Executive
Through his time as Exxon Mobil CEO, Tillerson “spent his career fostering deep ties to Sunni Arab and Gulf states,” says the Times of Israel.
The newspaper said that some are concerned because, as the head of an oil company, Tillerson did not have a reason to cultivate ties with Israel like he did its petroleum-wealthy neighbors in the Persian Gulf. “Tillerson clearly has established business relationships with many of the Arab states,” the Jewish Community Relations Council’s executive director, Ron Halber, told The Times of Israel.
Haaretz said Tillerson is a leader in an industry that “traditionally shuns Israel and prefers the Arab world.”
2. Tillerson’s Opposition to Sanctions Worries Some in Israel
Israel has considered sanctions a useful tool, especially when dealing with the Iranians, said the Times of Israel. However, Tillerson’s opposition to sanctions is concerning some Jewish leaders.
“It seems kind of odd,” Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said to Forward.com. “…[Trump] has made one of his main foreign policy objectives to roll back any potential for an Iranian nuclear weapons acquisition, he would make as his Secretary of State a person who doesn’t support the very tool that brought the Iranians to the table.”
3. Tillerson’s Ties to Russia Are Raising Concern
Tillerson’s close ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin are worrying some pro-Israel people as Russia is considered hostile to Israel. The Jerusalem Post said Exxon Mobil “signed a deal with Rosneft, Russia’s largest state-owned oil company, for joint oil exploration and production. Since then, the companies have formed 10 joint ventures for projects in Russia.”
In addition, some are worried about Tillerson’s friendship with former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who was not perceived as warm to Israel, said Jewish Insider.
4. Tillerson’s Positions on Israel Are Not Clear
Making some Jewish leaders nervous: It’s not really clear where Tillerson stands on Israel. That, coupled with his ties to oil-rich Arabic countries, concerns them.
Mort Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), told Jewish Insider: “As an oil man, he was obviously very close to many Arab countries, and had close relations with them. I am worried that this may indicate bias against Israel,” said Klein.
5. Other Choices Were Seen as Being More Friendly to Israel
Other possible choices for secretary of state, such as Mitt Romney, were more vocal in their support of Israel. Romney was controversially quoted as saying that he did not believe the Palestinians were interested in establishing peace.
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