Meetings of Minds in Israel
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
August 1, 2013
Reflecting on his recent trade trip to Israel, Governor Rick Snyder stated that it was an experience he will always remember. “I see a lot of good business and cultural ties coming out of it,” he said, “so it was wonderful in that way. I look forward to continuing to build a stronger relationship with Israel and with the community.”
With the mission to build and strengthen Michigan’s ties to Israel, the trip was organized in part by the Detroit Federation and the Michigan Israel Business Bridge (a nonprofit based in Bloomfield Hills) and privately funded by the Michigan Economic Growth Foundation and corporate donations to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) Foundation.
Full speed from the start
“We planned a 10-day whirlwind tour, jam-packed with visits highlighting Israeli achievement in science and technology, medicine, education and defense,” said Federation’s Chief Executive Officer, Scott Kaufman, “And, in true Federation-style, we took the opportunity to showcase our partnerships and the work we do in the Central Galilee and Netanya. We know for a fact that a visit to an early education program that we support in the region already has sparked discussions in Lansing between education leaders in Michigan and Netanya, Israel, focusing on new “State-of-the-State” models for early childhood initiatives among low income families.”
No stranger to Israel nor to Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, Governor Snyder last visited Israel as a venture capitalist at the start of the nation’s high-tech boom in 1999, at which time he received the Aish HaTorah “Builder of Jerusalem” Award. The award was presented by Netanyahu himself.
Noting how Israeli culture encourages innovation, Snyder particularly was interested to return with his economic team to encourage investment in Michigan as the “gateway” to the U.S. marketplace. “When we reached out to the Governor to invite him to Israel on a trip put together by the Jewish Federation, he was thrilled to go,” stated Dennis Bernard, Founder and President of Bernard Financial Group, a commercial mortgage banking firm based in Southfield. Dennis served as co-chair for the trip, along with with Evan Weiner, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Edw. C. Levy Co. The Governor also was excited to bring along his 17-year-old daughter, Kelsey, for her first trip to Israel.
Emphasizing the Jewish community’s existing relationship with the Governor and Michigan legislature, Evan explained, “Through the work of the Government Oversight Committee, the Governor was aware of the past trips we have organized for Michigan legislators. We also have had the opportunity to work with two Arab social service providers – ACCESS and ACC – here in Detroit; together we have secured allocations from the state directly to our community agencies to the tune of $2.5 million dollars. It was through these efforts that the Detroit Federation was asked to take the lead in organizing the trip.”
The Wow Moment: Meeting with Bibi
Given the non-stop itinerary of the tour, the last thing one would expect would be a 90-minute, one-on-one sit-down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As Dennis described the meeting, “there was one incredible magic moment” when everything stopped in its tracks. “Diplomatic meetings like these are usually 20 minutes of perfunctory chit-chat with the requisite photos,” Dennis goes on to explain, “Everyone sitting in the room had been to hundreds of meetings like this one, that is, until the Governor and the Prime Minister locked into conversation and connected in a discussion of real substance. If I were a Hollywood director, I would have blocked the scene where you pan on just the two men, face-to-face, while the 14 people sitting around the conference table just fade out. For one hour, there was no one in that room but Bibi and the Governor. I also should mention that the conversation continued at the President’s Conference the following evening when Netanyahu went out of his way, not once, but twice, to seek out Governor Snyder.”
“It is impossible to go to Israel without learning about the roots of high-tech industry” said Hannan Lis, President of the Michigan Israel Business Bridge, who participated in the mission along with MIBB Executive Director, Pamela Lippitt. “We at MIBB, were pleased to present the Governor with opportunities to meet CEO’s both one-on-one and within industry groups to present the benefits of expanding their companies in Michigan. Meeting with the Governor, and Mike Finney, the CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, showed over 100 CEO’s, Researchers and Engineers the importance the State of Michigan places on trade with Israel.”
More business highlights of the trip
Setting the tone for talks with business leaders: A meeting with Saul Singer, co-author with Dan Senor of the 2009 bestseller Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle
Economic: A meeting at the Knesset with Naftali Bennett, Minister of Economy and Trade, to discuss issues of increased bilateral trade with Israel and to sign a letter of intent to work together on industrial research and development, and to create the framework for future cooperation between Michigan and Israeli companies
Automotive: Meetings with several automotive company representatives and a visit to the General Motors Advanced Technical Center Israel in Herzliya
Water: Meetings with water industry officials to discuss ways they’re using water more efficiently and reducing the electrical cost of providing water
Life Science: Meetings with numerous Life Science companies in Israel, including a visit to Technion Israel Institute in Haifa and a tour of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Hadassah has partnerships with the University of Michigan focusing on stem cell research and supported by donations from several prominent Jewish families, including Bill Davidson (of blessed memory) and Alfred Taubman.
Defense: Meeting and briefing with a select group of Israeli defense companies. The defense industry is one of the top economic drivers of the State of Michigan, with General Dynamics supplying a major category of military goods.
Education: A visit to Netanya to learn about “New Beginnings,” a program started by the Detroit Federation to help immigrants with illiteracy problems get up to speed and into the school system on an even playing field, in order to develop the skills ultimately needed for better career paths
Community-building: A visit to Nazareth Ilit, also in Federation’s Partnership 2GETHER Region of the Galilee, to observe how Jewish and Arab children work together on technology projects, then do community service together
City building: A meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barak to discuss shared challenges of attracting and retaining young talent and helping to spur exciting urban neighborhoods in which to “Live, Work, Play”