It was Governor Phil Murphy’s first overseas trade mission as New Jersey governor, and his sixth trip to Israel in four years.
Last Friday, he took part in a telephone conference call, organized by the New Jersey-Israel Commission, to report on the results of his trip last month.
He began with a condemnation of the Hamas attacks on Israel. “Israel has the right to defend itself against that sort of aggression,” he said. “New Jersey stands firmly with Israel and its people.”
The nine-day trip took Mr. Murphy and his wife, Tammy, to just two countries: Israel and Germany, where Mr. Murphy had been the U.S. ambassador from 2009 to 2013.
“My first foray to Israel was at the invitation of the Israeli ambassador to Germany,” he said. “It turned into a love affair with Israel.”
Mr. Murphy spoke about the “extraordinary amount” New Jersey and Israel have in common. “We’re almost the same size, within a few square miles,” he said. “Almost the same population — we’ve got about 300,000 more residents in New Jersey.”
“We have, by the way, the largest Palestinian community of any state in America.”
The governor said he wanted to make New Jersey an “innovation state” along the lines of Israel’s branding as the “startup nation.”
“We are completely convinced that the ticket to our future in New Jersey is to re-seize both the innovation and infrastructure economies,” he said. “Over the past decade or more we’ve let both those economies rust. The innovation economy is in our DNA. Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, David Sarnoff — we were Silicon Valley before Silicon Valley.”
The schedule included a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and visits to the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, and a tree planting ceremony at Yad Kennedy.
“That was a huge honor,” the governor, who is Irish Catholic, said. “President Kennedy is a hero of mine. I was born in Boston. An Irish Catholic will look up to President Kennedy. Planting a tree says a lot about the future. It was a very profound moment in our trip.”
The focus of the trip, however, was business.
“We spent the bulk of our time with the startup community, the venture capital community, and the university community,” Mr. Murphy said. Roundtable discussions brought together representatives of various industries, including life sciences, cybersecurity, and autonomous vehicles.
He pitched the Israeli companies the idea that that they should base their American operations in New Jersey.
“New Jersey is never going to be the low-cost state,” he said. “It’s a good-value-for-the-money state. It’s top in physics instructions. Number one in foreign language taken by students. Number one in diversity. It has a huge and deep and rich Jewish community.”
Jose Lozano, the executive director of Choose New Jersey, accompanied the governor on his trip. His organization promotes the state’s economic growth.
“We have every intention of continuing to build on the bilateral partnership,” Mr. Lozano said. “We’re planning on going back to Israel and continuing the conversations with Israeli universities and some of the companies we engaged with.
“We’re looking forward to building a stronger partnership.”