Ties That Bind: Israel, New Jersey Have Business and Cultural Links

American Jews sometimes compare the size of Israel with the size of New Jersey. But the Jewish state and the Garden State have a lot more in common.

For starters, New Jersey is one of Israel’s leading partners in trade among U.S. states.

In June 2003, New Jersey purchased $20 million in Israel Bonds. The state boasts a New Jersey-Israel Commission, which promotes economic, scientific and cultural exchanges between the locales. And New Jersey is one of six U.S. states that mandate Holocaust education in public schools.

For its part, Israel is New Jersey’s fourth largest export market, consuming $938 million in goods in 2003; with offices of more than 40 Israeli companies in New Jersey, Israel employs more than 1,000 people there, according to the New Jersey-Israel Commission.

Many reasons account for the deep ties between New Jersey and Israel, said Max Kleinman, executive vice president of the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, New Jersey.

First, there’s a “lot of economic symmetry and synergy” between the New Jersey and Israeli economies, both of which are strong in biotechnology and engineering, he said.

Furthermore, with half a million Jews in New Jersey, Kleinman added, “we’re one of the primary constituents of the state. And we’ve had some excellent governors that share the same vision” of economic and scientific advancement between the two governments.

In the wake of the state’s historic scandal in which Gov. James McGreevey announced his resignation due to what he called a gay affair with Israeli Golan Cipel, Israel hastened to secure ties with McGreevey’s successor.

Last week, Israel’s consul general in New York, Arye Mekel, became the first foreign diplomat to meet with N.J. State Senator Richard Codey in his capacity as governor-designate.

Codey succeeds McGreevey on Nov. 15.

“The name of Israel was, I should say, dragged into that issue regarding the resignation of Gov. McGreevey, and I thought that we needed to make a new start,” Mekel told JTA.

But the scandal — which hinged on the fact that McGreevey appointed

Cipel to man New Jersey’s homeland security despite his overwhelming lack of

relevant experience — never put the New Jersey-Israel relationship at risk, Mekel said.

Still, “I thought we should get this relationship back on track again,” Mekel said. “It’s a very major partner for trade in Israel.”

Ultimately, neither side brought up the Israeli undertones of the McGreevey affair in the Sept. 27 meeting.

According to Kleinman, who also attended the meeting, the Cipel affair is irrelevant.

Though his federation arranged the 2000 Israel mission on which McGreevey met Cipel, “what happened between the two of them is between the two of them,” Kleinman said.

“We just did our jobs,” Kleinman said, which has meant introducing New Jersey “governors of both parties to their peers in Israel.”

Codey’s office agrees.

“I don’t’ think people are looking at” the affair “as an Israeli thing,” said Joseph Firodaliso, Codey’s district director. “It is just something that happened and certainly from our perspective didn’t affect the ties to Israel or the Jewish community.”

Meanwhile, both sides said the Mekel-Codey meeting went well, noting that Codey co-sponsored the resolution that created the N.J. Commission on Holocaust Education.

Codey was enthusiastic about visiting Israel on a trip with the local federation and the Israeli Consulate, observers said. Codey visited Israel about 10 years ago on a trip with the MetroWest federation, according to his office.

The relationship is “beneficial to both New Jersey and the State of Israel,” Firodaliso said. “It’s something that really MetroWest federation here in New Jersey has fostered, and the senator has always been very supportive of the State of Israel.”

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