Briefing Jewish leaders on his trip to Israel and Jordan, Gov. Chris Christie said the visit gave him greater awareness of the region as it created more economic potential for New Jersey.
The governor addressed a crowded meeting room at the Shimon and Sara Birnbaum JCC in Bridgewater on April 11, three days after returning from the Middle East,
The audience included a number of the rabbis and Jewish organizational leaders who accompanied him to Israel, including Mark Levenson, chair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, Rabbi Yosef Carlebach of Rutgers Chabad, and Josh Pruzansky, New Jersey regional director for public policy at the Orthodox Union.
In his remarks, Christie graded his achievements on the trip as “B plus,” saying he had set out to learn more about Israel’s security needs, to increase state trade with Israel, and to gain “a better understanding of the cultural experiences that Israelis and Jews in the United States feel about Israel.”
“I am a hard grader on myself,” he said. “Probably some people would give me an A, but there is more work to be done.”
On the economic front, Christie said his biggest success was signing a nonbinding “letter of cooperation” with Teva Pharmaceutical, the generic drug giant.
“I think we are going to have some really exciting announcements to make with Teva within the next few weeks. To go over there and hopefully bring back jobs to New Jersey is great,” he said.
Asked to provide details during a question and answer period, he said, “We are looking forward to trying to improve the conversation…and I think once they get here they are going to want to expand here.”
Christie was less optimistic about a potential relationship between New Jersey and A Better Place, an Israel developer of infrastructure for electric vehicles.
“They are trying to make battery-operated cars an affordable reality for people around the world,” he said of his visit to the company outside Tel Aviv. “This is something we are clearly going to take a look at as we move forward.”
But in answer to a question, the governor conceded that “as in anything we want to do, we must balance always policy perspective, potential investment by the state in this type of technology, and how well it would work in New Jersey, given our particular infrastructure needs, which are a little different than Israel’s.”
Describing a meeting in Israel arranged by Choice NJ, a non-profit supporting his economic development agenda, Christie said he met with young entrepreneurs “who have started some of the most amazing businesses and want to access the U.S. market in a new and different way. Israel is creating an atmosphere for that type of entrepreneurship. They are allowing young people to follow their dreams.”
He described his business meeting and dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “as an extraordinary time, getting his view not only of the world and the region but also talking about our children.
“I felt his extraordinary concern over the issues that face the region right own, particularly Iran, and that he won’t hesitate to execute his responsibilities,” said the governor.
In a news conference following his meeting with Jewish leaders, Christie told NJ Jewish News that he and Netanyahu discussed Israel’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.
“I think the prime minister just wanted to express to me how concerned he is about the Iranian situation and to remind me again that Israel will never again rely on other nations to provide its security and protection,” said Christie. “But there was never any specific conversations about its actions against Iran.”
The governor said he better understood Israel’s security concerns after riding in a military helicopter from the West Bank to the Mediterranean.
“It took three minutes, and a general reminded me that missile fly faster than helicopters,” he said.
During a two-day visit to Jordan, the governor said he “stood on the shore of the Red Sea, looked 1,000 yards away, and saw Israel and Egypt right around the corner. Everybody is on top of each other. It makes security more problematic, but I also think it presents opportunities for people if they decided they anted to work together,” he said.
Christie said he “walked away from a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah impressed with what a man of goodwill he is. I believe he wants to be part of a solution in that region.”
Christie also said that he believes it is important to have the entire city of Jerusalem under Israeli control.
“What you see is the extraordinary pluralism in that city,” he said. “When we were at the Wall, we could hear the call for Muslim prayers. We walked the Stations of the Cross and could hear Coptic Christians, Green Orthodox, and Roman Catholics all walking together and celebrating religious traditions together. That is not something that happened in Jerusalem for a very, very long time before 1948.”
Israel gained its independence in the war of 1948, but did not gain control of Jerusalem’s Old City and eastern side until 1967.
In a moment of levity, Pruzansky asked Christie, “When you are the president of the United States, what would your opinion be on proclaiming Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel?”
“You’re kidding me, Josh,” he said to a roomful of laughter. “I'm not going to give positions on that. Just in case I want to do that, I want something to look forward to.”