Trade mission exceeds expectations

Guest blogger George Weisz, president of Weisz Ventures and one of the members of the first Arizona trade mission to Israel, submitted the following after the trip concluded. (Weisz’s first person account of the earlier part of the trip, “Gov. Ducey visits Israel,” Jewish News, Oct. 16, is available here.) 

The second half of Gov. Doug Ducey’s Arizona trade mission to Israel was as amazing as the first portion. He engaged in extensive meetings with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; former President Shimon Peres; four Cabinet ministers; numerous Israeli start-ups; Wendy Singer, whose foundation Start-Up Nation Central continues the synergetic vibe of the book “Start-Up Nation”; water resource experts; and the developers of Iron Dome. Most importantly, the governor signed a letter of intent with the Israeli government to foster collaborative partnerships between Arizona and Israel which will lead to tremendous opportunities for Arizonans and our state’s economic growth. This first-ever Arizona trade mission to Israel, the vision of this governor, exceeded expectations.

The delegation witnessed “the miracle that is Israel.” The whirlwind itinerary was exhilarating as, around every corner, we saw more and more applications that could benefit Arizona. We were able to capture the true spirit of Israelis who manage to excel in so many areas, yielding more patents and more start-ups per capita than any other nation except the U.S. The contributions that Israelis make to the world in medicine, water management, agriculture, education, energy, homeland security and technologies of so many disciplines is unmatched.

It was not lost upon the delegation that Israel accomplishes all this while living in the most dangerous neighborhood in the world with rockets from Hamas and Hezbollah pointed at its homes and schools along with the repeated threat of real annihilation from Iran. We had a detailed, sobering briefing with Dore Gold, director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who noted the increasing build-up of terrorist activities along most of Israel’s borders and the challenges to survival that Israel faces every day.

We were in Israel at a time when innocent Israelis lost their lives to sporadic terrorist attacks, and many others were injured, with Palestinians clearly being incited by their leaders to specifically spill Israeli blood. We had just left the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which has very special meaning to the governor and is a place one can feel such awesome spirituality no matter what one’s religion or culture. As our delegation was walking up the steps from the cavern of Muslim shops to the Jaffa Gate, four plainclothes Israeli police officers ran down the stairs past us to a site across the Old City, where a terrorist had just stabbed an Israeli police officer. Soon thereafter, Israeli authorities closed the Old City for an hour, a rare occurrence. While we were in Israel, 23 attacks occurred resulting in eight Israelis being murdered and 70 wounded. It reminded us of the Israeli adage: “If terrorists put down their weapons, there will be peace. If Israel puts down its weapons, there will be no Israel.”

The hearts of our delegation were deeply hurt as we heard of the escalating violence. We recognized that in addition to the precious lives that were lost, the terrorist leaders were also trying to damage Israel’s vibrant tourism industry from which many Israelis and Palestinians derive their living. Yet, we felt safe wherever we traveled within Israel, and safer than in some American cities. We found a nation whose people stayed vigilant every day while at the same time producing medical discoveries that were saving lives around the world. This was a society that was also intent on preserving the historic sites of all religions.

These terrorist attacks only strengthened the governor’s desire to show support for Israel, now more than ever. He has urged other national and state leaders to join him in that support. During our trip, he continuously received gratitude from both Israeli officials and average citizens, including servers at restaurants and start-up company workers, who stopped to thank him and his delegation for being in Israel and demonstrating our unwavering support.

One of those appreciative leaders was Benjamin Netanyahu, who expressed to the governor his desire to strengthen ties with Arizona and build on a close, respected relationship that the prime minister has appreciated for years with Sen. John McCain, a true friend of Israel and one of the world’s top leaders in foreign policy.

Seeing thru the tears of a grieving nation, we witnessed a boundless optimism that was mesmerizing. No one exuded that optimism more than Shimon Peres, with whom the governor spent considerable time at the Peres Center for Peace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. When we arrived, there were young adults with a certain vibrancy working on projects that bring Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians together. The center also initiates cooperative projects around the world, including a water project with Mexico to which the governor offered his assistance. When he asked the dapper and inspirational Peres for his secret to staying so young, Peres provided us with his clearly effective philosophy: “Count your achievements. Then count your dreams. If your dreams are more than your achievements, then you are young.” And, he added: “Don’t dream small; dream great!”

Peres expressed those sentiments again, a few days later, when he shared the podium with the governor at the opening session of Israel’s International Water Technology and Environmental Control Conference (WATEC). He had been invited by the Israeli government to speak at the conference because Arizona, like Israel, has a history of success in formulating good water policy. While Arizona stays concerned over its water resources and has eyes wide open on its challenges, it is clear that Arizona is far ahead of managing its resources than California which warranted its own session at WATEC that showed the tremendous struggles it is experiencing. Ducey, accompanied by the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Tom Buschatzke, attended several of the sessions and met with water technology innovators, who are breaking new ground on preserving the quantity and quality of water supplies.

Gov. Doug Ducey and Arie Dery, Israel's economic minister (right), sign a letter of intent initiating cooperative partnerships between Arizona and Israel in a variety of disciplines. Photo by George Weisz

Gov. Doug Ducey and Arie Dery, Israel’s economic minister (right), sign a letter of intent initiating cooperative partnerships between Arizona and Israel in a variety of disciplines.
Photo by George Weisz

While at WATEC, the governor met with Arie Dery, Israel’s minister of the economy, and the two leaders signed a Letter of Intent between Arizona and Israel initiating plans for a joint partnership to cooperate together in mutual ways for the benefit of both Arizonans and Israelis. This historic agreement will lead to active joint efforts in a host of disciplines and the sharing of information and best practices.

Seeking out collaborative opportunities was the theme of a very productive meeting with Nancy Singer, a former AIPAC staff member, who now heads Start-Up Nation Central. Nancy’s brother, Dan Senor, co-authored the acclaimed book “Start-Up Nation,” which tells the story of the innovative spirit of the Israeli people. At a Republican Governors Association conference this past year, Senor gave the governor a copy of his book. This inspired the governor to explore how the principles outlined in the book could be applicable to enhancing the prosperity of Arizonans. As he frequently says: “With Israel as the Start-Up Nation, Arizona should be the Start-Up State.”

Singer showed our delegation the various pathways to partnering with start-ups, entrepreneurs and investors in Israel who are looking to branch out to the United States and invest time and resources at American locations where visions are result-oriented and business-friendly. Throughout our meetings with various Israeli companies, the governor was adamant in his message that “Arizona is open for business” and his particular desire to lure Israeli technology, resources and know-how to Arizona. He brought Arizona experts – including Arizona Commerce Authority CEO Sandra Watson, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Glenn Hamer and Phoenix Greater Economic Council President Chris Camacho – to Israel to accompany him in these meetings. Having them with him, the governor wanted to immediately start an action plan.

He also met with Silicon Valley Bank, which took a contingent of investors to Israel to validate the economic successes outlined in “Start-Up Nation.” Silicon Valley Bank has a large presence in Arizona with its expansion greatly assisted by the Arizona Commerce Authority. Yes, they validated Israel’s innovative, prosperous atmosphere.

The Arziona trade delegation visits an Iron Dome placement. Photo by George Weisz

The Arizona trade delegation visits an Iron Dome placement.
Photo by George Weisz

One highlight of the trip was a visit to an Iron Dome Missile Defense placement north of Gaza. A young but extremely able IDF officer showed us the system that is saving both Israeli and Palestinian lives. IDF officers manning these systems have 4 seconds to determine if an Iron Dome interceptor needs to be launched against a terrorist rocket. Raytheon in Tucson is a partner with Rafael, the Israeli company that developed this amazing technology. We toured Rafael’s manufacturing headquarters in northern Israel, which is currently building David’s Sling, the newest missile defense system, along with more Iron Dome units and other defense systems. David Orr of Raytheon in Tucson, a former fighter pilot, was a member of our delegation.

Defense contractors are a major component of Arizona’s economy, and the governor was on the lookout for projects and applications for these companies. One must remember that of the security and military aid that the U.S. provides each year to Israel, over 75 percent of those funds come back to the U.S. in purchases from American companies. No other nation returns that much to the U.S. Essentially, security aid for Israel means more jobs for Arizonans. Right now, Israel will be asking for funds to produce more Iron Dome units, a project that has proven its success in saving lives time and time again. It will be up to all of us to lobby Congress to approve that vital request.

Border security is a priority of the governor and many Arizonans. We visited an Israeli company that has developed new virtual-border-fence technology that is now being installed in Arizona on the U.S.-Mexico border. Eventually, over 200 miles along our border will have coverage from this state-of-the-art detection technology. Delegation member Frank Milstead, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, reviewed this company’s newest technology along with homeland security advancements offered by other Israeli firms. The delegation also promoted the idea that such firms should bring manufacturing or research offices to Arizona.

We also tried to recognize operations in Israel that have Arizona investors. Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall led us for lunch to the new Hotel Yehuda atop the Massuah Hills, a designer hotel with banquet facilities owned by Diamondbacks team partner Jeff Royer. Jeff will be glad to know that the governor, Derrick, Danny Seiden and West Coast Capital Partners co-founder Bill Metzler ran off part of that lunch, as well as a Shabbat dinner, when they led most of the delegation on a jog around the 2.5-plus-mile circumference of the walls of the Old City.

The governor also took note of the excellent relationships that Arizona cities have established with Israeli cities in the Sister Cities Program, such as Phoenix’s great relationship with Ramat-Gan, just north of Tel Aviv.

This article only touches the tip of the iceberg of a very aggressive agenda set forth by the governor and his staff, including Kirk Adams, Danny Seiden and Sara Mueller. Some of our encounters were set up by Israel Consul General David Siegel, who took valuable time to travel with us. The many meetings and contacts were designed to produce results and deliverables that will produce short-term and long-term benefits for Arizonans.

The meetings were peppered with experiences to enhance one’s understanding of the heritage of the people of this holy land, a place that was, in many ways, the center of the world thousands of years ago and the center still today. The delegation learned about the spirit and ingenuity of those who have had no choice but to invent, devise and develop amazing things in order to survive. It learned that, as Shimon Peres mentored us, one does not need a lot of land to be great, one just needs a great mind.

I was privileged to be a member of this historic delegation that was expertly led by Gov. Doug Ducey, who had a tremendous grasp of the issues and who wore his love for Israel and his pride of Arizona on his sleeve and in his heart. He represented all of us very well. You can be very proud of his initiative to bring Arizona and Israel closer together, a natural fit in so many ways, to enhance the economic prosperity for all Arizonans.

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