Governor Chris Christie and his family will be travelling to Israel next Sunday, April 1 through Thursday, April 5. He will be following the tradition of the special sister-state relationship between Israel and New Jersey that was established by former Governor Tom Kean in a 1988 executive order.
I have been to Israel eighteen times, including two trips with governors Tom Kean and Christie Whitman. A mission to Israel led by a New Jersey governor can be a most meaningful experience for both New Jerseyans and Israelis, as I learned on both these trips.
I had the good fortune to travel with Tom Kean to Poland and Israel in 1995 on a Holocaust education mission under the auspices of the New Jersey-Israel Commission. In a previous PolitickerNJ column dated May 8, 2011, “Israel, Robert Kean, and Tom Kean – Perfect Together”, I wrote at length about the heroism of Congressman Robert Kean in being an often lonely advocate on behalf of 1) European Jewry rescue during the Holocaust and 2) the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel. His son, Governor Tom Kean built upon that legacy by establishing both the New Jersey Israel Commission and Holocaust Education Commission during his tenure.
Tom Kean was also the leading governor in America in advocating for the right of Jews in the former Soviet Union to emigrate to Israel. He worked closely with the late President Ronald Reagan to secure the release of a Russian Jewish “refusenik”.
The Kean family name is indeed hallowed in Israel, and it deserves to be. I know of no other non-Jewish family who has been more supportive of World Jewry in our struggles for human rights and survival than the Kean family. Thus, I treasure my friendship with Tom Kean.
Governor Christie Whitman’s personal and governmental relationship with the State of Israel was unique among American governors of her era. It began with her trip to Israel in 1992, prior to her becoming governor in 1994. During her initial visit to Israel, Israeli leaders such as the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin actually sought her friendship. Once elected as governor, Whitman became the national leader among American governors on economic development issues. This was a key factor in the increasing trade and mutual investment between New Jersey and Israeli businesses during the 1990s.
I served as one of the coordinators of Governor Whitman’s 1996 trade mission to Israel in which over one hundred companies participated, together with various New Jersey governmental and political leaders and media. This trip took place twenty-one months after the Whitman administration opened New Jersey’s first trade office in Israel in the city of Ra’anana.
Thus, it should not have surprised me how Governor Whitman was received by Israelis on that trip as a beloved American leader. The Jerusalem Post ran a story about her as a future American President. Everywhere she went, Israelis enthusiastically wanted to greet her.
I believe that Chris Christie will have a most successful mission to Israel as well. His straightforward style will be very well-received by the Israeli populace. The Israeli media have reported that the governor is regarded in America as a future possible President of the United States. These journalists will be most eager to hear his views on all issues regarding the Israeli-American alliance.
I hope when the governor is in Israel, he will have the opportunity to see a session of the Israeli Knesset (parliament). In these sessions, you can witness Knesset members attacking each other in the most passionate, ad hominem fashion. Yet these same members will have lunch together afterwards in the Knesset cafeteria in the most amiable fashion. This manner of civility is often lacking in American state legislatures. Christie would no doubt find this fascinating and discuss this with legislators of both parties upon his return.
Governor, may you and your family be blessed with a most pleasant, informative, and safe trip.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.