While in Israel, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an agreement to connect Israeli businesses to Michigan.

Featured photo courtesy of Start-up Nation Central

At an Israeli mobility summit held 984 feet from the Mediterranean coastline, an exhibition hall overflowed with companies. Many of the startups are focused on making driving safer to prevent the 6 million accidents that occur each year in the U.S. One company just advanced a partnership with a major city in Michigan to help create transportation efficiencies for the city and its drivers.

A short ride away, an Israeli stealth startup is working on reducing global medical errors to target the quarter million or so preventable deaths each year. It’s the third leading cause of U.S. deaths. The startup is one of several ventures aligned with Michigan hospitals’ objectives to save lives through technology, whether it’s to lower wait time or create more efficiencies for the state’s 100 million+ emergency room visits each year.

A few miles up the Mediterranean coastline, a group from Michigan had arrived, led by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who spent last week in Israel on her first international trade mission.
The five-day trip from Nov. 19-23 included a visit to GM’s Advanced Technical Center and a meeting with its director, Gil Golan, and his team for an understanding of GM’s role in Israel’s Start-Up Nation and the innovation ecosystem.

Whitmer also scheduled a meeting with a delegation of other Democratic U.S. governors pursuing partnerships and economic developments in Israel, and visits to Ford Motor Company’s new regional research center.

Also on her agenda was a meeting with Israeli Minister of Energy Dr. Yuval Steinitz as part of the Water Technology and Environmental Council (WATEC) conference.

Improving Michigan-Israel Ties

The governor comes home with a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Israel-based tech NGO Start-Up Nation Central.

Start-Up Nation Central acts as a gateway to Israeli innovation to collaborate on ways to improve opportunities and quality of life for Michigan citizens. Michigan and Start-Up Nation Central will work to connect innovative ecosystems and identify Israeli-based companies with opportunities to expand operations into Michigan.

“This MOU can offer a blueprint for connecting the innovation ecosystems strategically,” Whitmer said. “An example might be how to optimize mobility to improve transportation options for citizens who may not be looking for a self-driving car, but who do need an affordable, reliable way to go to the bank, get to an appointment or meet friends.”

Earlier this year, Michigan became the first state to launch a free web platform poised to be a tipping point for the state’s startup ecosystem. The platform, startupMICHIGAN.com, created by Start-Up Nation Central and powered by the Michigan Israel Business Accelerator (MIBA), features more than 300 startups and growing — including hubs and funders.

“One of Gov. Whitmer’s top priorities is solidifying Michigan as a world leader in mobility, and it’s important that we build on our relationships with our international partners so we can work together to attract more businesses and jobs to our state,” said the governor’s spokesperson Tiffany Brown.

During her trip, Whitmer spoke at the WATEC conference in Tel Aviv, highlighting her dedication to protecting the Great Lakes.

According to the Times of Israel, at the conference Whitmer said, “We’re working with our partners and other states to secure our Great Lakes because we cannot afford to sit back and watch these problems get worse. The ecological economics and the health risks are too high. And time is not on our side. We must act now; we must act together. We must form partnerships with leaders around the world to do this.”

While in Israel, Whitmer visited Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In Bethlehem, she planned to visit the Church of the Nativity and meet with Vera Baboun, representative of the Palestinian Authority and former mayor of Bethlehem.

According to her official statement, the trip was conducted at the invitation of the Israeli government and hosted by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit in coordination with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Michigan’s Arab-Americans Upset

Whitmer’s decision to travel to Israel angered some Arab Americans in Michigan, according to an Arab American News press release.

Arab American community leaders met Monday during her trip to formulate a response to Whitmer’s “insensitive and offensive trip to the apartheid state of Israel.” Her trip took leaders by surprise, says the press release, which added that many in the Arab American community in Michigan considered it “a slap in the face.”

According to the Detroit News, the Dearborn-based American Human Rights Council said in a statement that it is “deeply concerned” that Whitmer’s visit to Israel will be “perceived as acquiescence, if not approval of U.S. abandonment of its longtime policy and of Israeli repressive policies.”

According to Brown, “Michigan governors have a rich tradition of traveling to Israel to strengthen our business ties and meet with leaders to discuss how we can partner to attract more businesses and jobs to our state. The governor is hopeful that we’ll accomplish these goals on this trip, and she’s excited for future opportunities to work with more of our international partners.”

Previous governors to lead economic development trips to Israel include Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2008 and Gov. Rick Snyder in 2017.

No Press Time

Though the Jewish News had a reporter on the ground in Israel all week, repeated requests each day for access to the governor to cover her activities in the country were denied. The JN was granted a five-minute conference call with Whitmer on Friday, Nov. 22, but the call was canceled at the last minute.

JN Contributing Writer Adam Finkel reported from Tel Aviv.