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At Monday’s meeting in Trenton of the New Jersey-Israel Commission are, from left, Ambassador Ido Aharoni, consul general for Israel in New York, N.J. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, and Mark Levenson, the new chairman of the commission. Tim Larsen/Governor’s Office

The New Jersey-Israel Commission was created in 1988, when New Jersey and the State of Israel forged a relationship, via executive order, to implement the goals of a Sister State Agreement “to promote the development of trade, culture, and educational exchanges; encourage the development of capital investment and joint business ventures; and foster a spirit of cooperation between the citizens of [in this case] the State of Israel and the State of New Jersey.”

On Monday, at a meeting in Trenton attended by some 75 people, the commission was officially reactivated by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration under the chairmanship of Mark Levenson, who was appointed in December. Levenson, president-elect of the State Association of New Jersey Jewish Federations and a veteran eight-year president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic, is a real estate attorney who chairs the Israel Business Practice Group at his law firm, Sills Cummis Gross PC of Newark.

“I’m very excited about our first meeting,” Levenson, who lives in West Orange, told this newspaper in a pre-meeting interview. Among the presenters on Monday afternoon were Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno; Ambassador Ido Aharoni, the consul general for Israel in New York; State Treasurer Andrew P. Sidamon-Eristoff; Yair Shiran, the economic minister to North America for Israel; and Linda Kellner, acting executive director of the New Jersey Business Action Center.

Levenson said that, because of limited resources and to avoid duplication, cultural and educational projects would be handled by Jewish federations. He emphasized that “the commission’s focus is to increase trade and economic activity, get businesses to invest in Israel, get Israel to invest resources in New Jersey, and create jobs. For example, if a New Jersey pharmaceutical company wants to expand its global reach and needs operations outside of the United States, we would like them to consider Israel as a real prospect. And there are many similarities, in population and in geographical size. The Israelis have an educated workforce and so does New Jersey. Israeli companies like Teva [the drug company] and Netafim [a water technology company] ought to consider New Jersey for U.S. operational headquarters and research and development centers. We want to encourage incubators, entrepreneurs, and business alliances.”

Levenson said that in return, New Jersey offers “tax incentives, a wealth of universities, research facilities, academic talent, welcoming communities, and [high] quality of companies.”

Levenson said that he is determined to make New Jersey one of Israel’s top trading partners. Israel is New Jersey’s 11th-largest trading partner – with 70 Israeli companies doing business here. In 2010, New Jersey did $814,814,378 in exports to Israel. Military contracts with Israel in 2010, using the government’s “Foreign Military Financing,” totaled $44,176,250. Some New Jersey companies granted contracts through the FMF program include: ITL Optronics, Inc. in Emerson; Radbit Computers, Inc. in Mahwah, and Ness U.S.A. in Hackensack.

The chairman noted that Israel’s economy grew by 7.8 percent in the last quarter of 2010. “Israel was the first country in the developed world to raise the benchmark central bank lending rate – now up to 2.5 percent since the worldwide economic crisis began, and the housing market in many cities is on fire. They have moved from an ‘orange economy’ to hi-tech, life science, computer science and IT, clean-tech (renewable energy), defense, and security- all ready to spawn major subsidiaries in our state.”

According to various sources, more than 700 New Jersey companies do business in Israel, including American Gas and Chemicals, Ace Locksmith, Johnson & Johnson, and Hewlett Packard. In July 2008, the New Jersey-Israel Commission and the U.S.-Israel Bi-national Industrial R&D Foundation (BIRD) renewed their partnership to promote ties between companies in New Jersey and Israel that develop innovative products and technologies and are eligible for matching grants of up to $1 million to pay 50 percent of their development costs.

The commission serves as BIRD’s official representative in Israel for New Jersey. For example, BIRD funding allowed Bogen Communications in Ramsey to work with Artuv Communications on a call interceptor. The resultant product allows users to store voicemail, bypass voicemail systems, and use different messages for day and night. Telenex Corporation of Mount Laurel collaborated with TTI of Israel on a telephone surveillance system. The companies’ components could not be marketed separately, so BIRD sponsored the production of an interface allowing both products to interact. The combined system allows phone companies to detect fraud, keep call data records, perform diagnostics, and control billing. ITS Sharplan Lasers in Allendale, distributors of medical lasers, teamed up with I Sight Ltd., an Israeli manufacturer of digital video cameras, to create the I Sight medical video camera, used mainly with endoscopes and laparoscopes in gynecology and urology.

“When companies like these partner with each other, what we are creating is the potential for extraordinary commercial and technological achievement to benefit New Jersey, Israel, and the world,” Levenson concluded.

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Jacob Toporek, Executive Director, NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, left; Senator Tom Kean, Jr, Senate Minority Leader; Roger Jacobs, Vice-Pesident, NJ State Association of Jewish Federations; Senator Barbara Buono, Senate Majority Leader; Consul General Ido Aharoni; Mark Levenson, Chair, NJ-Israel Commission; Roy Tanzman, Immediate Past President, NJ State Association of Jewish Federations; Ruth Cole, President, NJ State Association of Jewish Federations; Senator Stephen Sweeney, President of NJ State Senate.