The New Jersey-Israel Commission met this week.
The commission’s goal is to enhance the economic and trade relations between New Jersey and Israel. Its 77 commissioners, appointed by the governor, heard presentations from Israeli and state political and business leaders.
The commission was established in 1989, a year after Israel and New Jersey signed a sister state agreement, and it was made permanent in 2008. For years it operated with a staff of two, but in 2010 Governor Chris Christie cut that line from the budget, saving the state $120,000 and drawing protests from Democrats.
To help the commission move forward, particularly now that it is an entirely volunteer-run operation, commission chairman Mark Levenson set up five subcommittees at Monday’s meeting.
One subcommittee will deal with educational and cultural exchanges. The other four are organized along the lines of some of Israel and Jersey’s largest shared industries: aerospace, defense, and homeland security; renewable energy; information technology and telecommunications; and life science and pharmaceuticals.
“People on this commission want to work. Our intention is to put them to work,” Levenson said.
Half of the commissioners are new – Christie appointed them after the commission last met in the fall.
At the meeting, commissioners heard from Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno; Ido Aharoni, Israel’s consul general in New York; Tracye McDaniel, head of Choose New Jersey; and Sigalit Siag, Israel’s chief fiscal officer for the Western hemisphere.
“Israel doesn’t view its competition as the Palestinians or the Jordanians,” Levenson quoted Aharoni as saying. “Its competition is the U.S. and Europe. That’s where the markets are, that’s where the products are.”
“From a business perspective, Israel wants to expand and export its ideas and businesses to the West,” Levenson said. “Frankly, New York is the destination for many of these businesses. We in New Jersey think we offer incentives like better housing prices and a better quality of living. We think we should be the home base.”
According to Levenson, Israel is New Jersey’s 12th largest trading partner, with trade valued at over $800 million. He sees his task as helping to nudge that number up. A partner at Sills, Cummis & Gross, last year Levenson accompanied Christie on the governor’s trip to Israel, meeting with Israeli companies considering New Jersey moves, and he continues to speak with those and other interested firms.
“There are 65 Israeli companies headquartered or located in New Jersey,” he said. “It’s like baseball. If I bat .300 in getting companies to come here, that’s great.”
“There are may ways to be soldiers for Israel,” Levenson added. “People have different views and opinions on Israel, but every commission member, I can assure you, is a Zionist at heart. You can be a soldier for Israel in many ways, and one way is to help push Israel forward from the business and economic end.”