If you are weary of hearing how isolated Israel appears to be and enjoy being exposed to eye-popping statistics, this year’s New Jersey-Israel annual meeting was not to be missed.
Taking place at One Riverfront Plaza, a premier address in Newark, the hour-and-a-half-long meeting focused on the worlds of business and cybersecurity and was chock full of facts, trends, a spirit of cooperation and an abundant supply of levity.
The meeting was led by Mark Levenson, the chair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, and included a half dozen speakers and about 75 invited guests. Levenson began by noting that in a recent interview of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 60 Minutes, the emphasis was on Israel’s economic prowess and cyber intelligence. He set the tone of the meeting, mixing serious discussion with a generous sprinkling of jokes, most of them attributable to Netanyahu. The first was clearly topical, as he shared the Prime Minister’s take on the common denominators between Israel and New Jersey. “The populations of each are similar, their geographic sizes are similar, and both have hostile neighbors to the north and south.” New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno could be seen laughing, likely thinking of her battles with New York to bring Israeli businesses to her state.
Levenson went on to talk of the good relations Israel has with both Egypt and Jordan. He followed by noting Israel’s tightening cooperation with China and India, remarking to laughter that the three nations are a force to be reckoned with because combined, they represent a third of the world’s population.
Next up was the Lieutenant Governor. Charming and down to earth, she spoke of New Jersey’s commitment to Israel as a partner who “put its money where its mouth is” by being one of the early states to pass anti-BDS legislation. She presented Levenson with a copy of the legislation that he spent a year and a half drafting, and praised Israel as a start-up nation that “we need to draw upon and follow in New Jersey.” She noted that in the past year, 100,000 new businesses had been created in New Jersey, and spoke of continuing efforts made to lure Israeli businesses away from New York to further increase job creation in her state. Guadagno cited one significant success story in Monmouth County, where an Israeli firm took up shop, adding 200 new jobs to the county’s books.
The heart of the meeting was the presentation by Israel’s Consul General for New York, Dani Dayan. Levenson introduced him as a close friend of Netanyahu’s. Perhaps to ease the awkwardness of Dayan’s role as representative of a competitive state speaking at a New Jersey economic event, he explained that one of his responsibilities was to bring Israeli companies in New York to New Jersey.
Dayan spoke of three core components to Israel’s economy. The first is innovation, where Israel ranks among the top two countries in the world. He later joked that one Israeli company had invented a do-it-yourself circumcision tool, which Netanyahu had referred to as another example of the country’s “cutting-edge technology.” The second component is entrepreneurship. Dayan noted with pride that Israel excels in this arena, with a new start-up created in the country every eight hours. He further declared that Netanyahu’s stated goal is for Beersheva to become the cybersecurity capital of the world. The third component is the markets, and with that Dayan said he is very grateful to New Jersey as one of the first anti-BDS states.
Dayan next launched into a breathtaking summary of Israel’s development into an economic powerhouse, highlighting a number of successes across the globe. “Israel is an economic miracle,” he declared, noting that during recent times when both Europe and the United States were downgraded by economic agencies, Israel was upgraded. He related that Israel’s relationship with India is intimate. Prime Minister Netanyahu and India’s Prime Minister Modi speak on a weekly basis. He noted Netanyahu’s recent visit to two Muslim countries, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, the former sharing a border with Iran, to openly discuss economic initiatives. Although Scandinavia is the capital of the BDS movement, trade between Israel and Denmark has risen by 42 percent during the past 10 years. He went on to state that the situation in South America has completely changed, as hostile presidents of Brazil and Argentina were replaced by staunch allies of Israel. Dayan even offered that there are solid partnerships with some Sunni-Arab nations.
Most significant, he said, is Israel’s relationship with Africa. He briefly noted the history. Israel had made strong inroads in the 1960s with various African nations, only to see them upended in the 1970s because of strong Arab pressure. Now, however, they are resurging as Netanyahu has made visits to countries across the continent. “Israel has never been less isolated economically,” he asserted.
In retrospect, given last week’s unanimous and disappointing Security Council vote regarding Israel, it almost seems as if we are living in parallel universes. How can Israel be so sought after as a partner while reviled at the same time? Perhaps a good part of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s current fury is the concern that many of carefully cultivated relationships could potentially suffer as a result of the vote. Or, as a result of closer ties across the globe, he’s simply more comfortable speaking his mind.
Israel’s Economic Minister to North America, Inon Elroy, followed Dayan with a series of PowerPoint slides. He offered impressive statistics regarding Israel’s top rankings across various business variables, noting that a key factor of that success is the close involvement and support of the government. Israel ranks number one in the world for research and development expenditures as a percent of GDP. He offered that another strong reason for Israel’s economic success is its immigrants, who are a key source of new ideas. “They are willing to take risks.” He closed with the revelation that there are now over 400 cybersecurity companies in the country.
Dr. Chris Rodriguez, director of New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, provided a detailed accounting of cybersecurity initiatives and challenges in the United States. He was praised as a strong supporter of Israel by Levenson, and began by noting the $4.2 million in grants offered to 58 Jewish institutions across New Jersey to provide safety in today’s environment.
Dr. Rodriguez spoke of an astounding one billion-plus attempted cyber attacks on New Jersey each day and stated that over 90 percent of the state’s critical infrastructure is privately owned, clearly food for thought. He called New Jersey “the most digitally dense state in the Union,” adding that it actually helps the federal government with critical information. Although in his daily efforts he often sees malicious code collecting from foreign nations, he assured the audience that because of redundancies, a power grid attack, among the worst fears of many, is highly unlikely.
Rodriguez said that presently eight countries have signed on to New Jersey’s cybersecurity feeds, including Israel. He noted that although it is a fact that the United States is stronger than either Russia or China militarily, cyberwarfare is asymmetrical. Our country’s first challenge is assigning enough seriousness to educating cybersecurity professionals. He offered that while tens of thousands of individuals enter the field in the U.S. each year, that number is dwarfed by the two million cyber-warriors who graduated from programs in China last year. He closed by saying “If you think that this country and its adversaries are not currently involved in escalating cyberwarfare, you are being naive.”
By Robert Isler
Robert Isler is a marketing researcher and writer who lives in Fair Lawn. He can be reached at [email protected]