The deals he signed were largely symbolic, and the connections he made were more friendly than financial. Nevertheless, Gov. Chris Christie’s five-day visit to Israel was considered a success by the Jewish leaders who were invited to tag along.
“Although no formal agreements have yet been announced, there were some significant high-level meetings on the business front,” Mark Levenson, chair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission (NJIC), said in an April 9 phone interview. “We believe these meetings will lead to growing Israeli businesses with a presence in New Jersey.”
For much of his April 1-5 trip to Israel and later Jordan, the media focused on the political impact of the visit. They speculated what it might mean for the popular Republican governor’s vice-presidential or presidential prospects.
Christie, however, insisted that the trip, paid for by the Republican Jewish Coalition and a nonprofit supported by state business leaders, was first and foremost a trade mission. Among the economic high points were Christie’s meetings with the chief executive officers of Teva, the Israeli pharmaceutical giant, and Better Place, creator of an electric vehicle infrastructure.
Christie and Teva CEO Shlomo Yanai signed a nonbinding “letter of cooperation” pledging “to work cooperatively for mutually beneficial purposes.”
“At Teva, we made a lot of progress,” Christie said in an April 4 conference call while he visited the Sea of Galilee. “We are going to have something positive to talk about regarding Teva and expansion in New Jersey.”
He called A Better Place “a really interesting opportunity. They are looking to expand to the United States and are looking for opportunities there, so we are going to continue our conversation with A Better Place. I don’t know if it is going to lead to anything or not,” he said, even as he called the company’s network for recharging electric cars “pretty amazing.”
Christie also said “to sit with the head of Google Israel was a great opportunity, and I know there are going to be great opportunities for New Jersey businesses that are going to come up through the lieutenant governor’s efforts.”
The governor said Israeli ideas for direct delivery of produce from farms to homes were something that could be implemented in New Jersey. Such methods would give “the agricultural community an opportunity to have greater profit margins and more opportunity to sell directly to consumers through the Internet,” he said.
According to NJIC, Israel is New Jersey’s 10th leading trade partner. More than 700 Garden State companies do business with Israel, and 65 Israeli companies maintain operations in New Jersey.
“I thought a lot was accomplished,” said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations. “The governor went to see the right people and said the right things, and I was pleased with how he received Israel and how Israel received him.”
Among the governor’s high-level meetings were two with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – one a private dinner – as well as sessions with Israeli President Shimon Peres and United States Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro.
Although Toporek said he “was not intimately involved in the governor’s trade discussions,” the State Association leader promised his organization’s assistance in continuing liaisons between Israeli businesses and Choose New Jersey, the coalition of state corporate leaders that helped fund Christie’s trip to Israel and Jordan.
Toporek said Jewish leaders on the trip had a chance to talk with some of Christie’s key staff people, “who indicated they would be willing to sit down with us and talk about our issues, so we are looking forward to meeting about that.
“I think the governor and his staff have a greater understanding of the Jewish community and some of the things that interest us.”
For Josh Pruzansky, New Jersey regional director for public policy at the Orthodox Union who lives in Teaneck, the highlight of the visit was a pilgrimage to the Kotel, the Western Wall, in Jerusalem.
“Walking in with the governor and my fellow delegates, and being swarmed upon by people who recognized him and who wanted to take their picture with him and shake his hand was pretty impressive, thousands of miles away from New Jersey,” Pruzansky said.