Only one state sent two different governors to Israel — the great state of Michigan.
Detroit, Michigan, was the first place I traveled to outside of Chicago when I arrived in the Midwest as Consul General. During my five-year posting, it has been an honor to serve as the highest-ranking representative of the state of Israel in the region. The Detroit community has been so cordial and engaging it has proven time and time again that Midwest hospitality is like no other — simply superb.
During my tenure, one of my main priorities has been to bring the Midwest to Israel and, in turn, Israel to the Midwest. By that, I am mainly referring to bringing the highest levels of elected officials from the Midwest to visit Israel, in an official capacity whenever possible. I am very proud of the fact that no less than six Midwestern governors visited Israel in the last five years. As we know, there is no better way to understand and appreciate the state of Israel than to be there.
Out of those five, only one state sent two different governors to Israel — the great state of Michigan. Both Gov. Rick Snyder and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer led business delegations to Israel; both came back with strong positive impressions of Israel’s capabilities and possible opportunities. Many potential follow-up items to strengthen the ties between Israel and Michigan were explored. Detroit Mayor Mike Dugan also led a mission to Israel, focusing on trade and economic exchanges.
Building Michigan-Israeli Ties
The focus of Gov. Whitmer’s trip in 2019 was on water technologies. We were honored to have her as the keynote speaker at the Bi-Annual WaTech Conference that year. In November 2019, during that visit, her first official international visit, Gov. Whitmer signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Start Up Nation Central CEO Eugene Kandel. The MOU was designed to expand the innovation exchanges between Israel and Michigan and to allow broader penetration points into one another’s ecosystems.
While he was in Israel, Gov. Snyder’s focus was on cyber and defense technologies. He was the keynote speaker at the Annual Cybertech conference. When Gov. Snyder returned from his visit to Israel, he worked to deepen and strengthen the economic connections between Israel and Michigan.
The result has been a successful partnership between the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), the private sector and MIBA (Michigan Israel Business Accelerator). The scope and scale of this Michigan-Israel relationship targets the convergence of technology, industry and research in such sectors as advance manufacturing, mobility, cyber, defense, water, health and life science and agriculture.
One of the fruitful outcomes of the Michigan-Israel connection occurred in May 2019 when Michigan became the first state in the United States to launch a free web platform. This platform was poised to be a tipping point for the state’s startup ecosystem, the platform — Startup MichiganTech — is based on the successful Israeli platform developed by Start-Up Nation Central, an independent nonprofit that builds bridges to Israeli innovation and ecosystem.
One other memorable visit happened in June 2018 when Ambassador Ron Dermer made a historic trip to Detroit where he met with the leadership of Detroit’s Jewish community, spoke to the Economic Club of Detroit, participated in a state legislators’ reception and met with the executive leadership of Ford Motor Company.
As a follow-up to the ambassador’s visit, in May 2019, Ford’s Executive Chairman Bill Ford announced the company would launch the Ford Research Center in southern Tel Aviv, in order to drive the next generation of automotive innovation in the heart of the Start Up Nation.
And on a lighter note, in February of 2019, the Consulate brought the world-renowned Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra to Ann Arbor for a special one-night concert. There is nothing more spectacular than a room full of 800 people from Michigan listening to “Hatikvah.” I will never forget it.
One of the main goals during my time as Consul General was to change the narrative around the U.S.-Israel relationship. Traditionally, Israel has been on the receiving side of our greatest ally, the United States. However, I believe the tiny and young state of Israel has a lot to offer, especially in the field of innovation, social innovation and tikkun olam. That is why we are currently in the process of implementing the model of NATAL to Detroit.
NATAL is an Israeli organization specializing in the field of war and terror-related trauma, PTSD and resiliency-building among civil society. NATAL can bring Israeli knowledge and experience in these fields to tackle challenges facing Detroit communities. We know that with the aid of the generous and kind Detroit community, this initiative will be effective and end up helping many with their mental health.
As I begin the end of my stay here in the Midwest, I want to thank the Jewish community as well as the non-Jewish community of Detroit, including political and community leaders, members of the press, cultural representatives and all others who have displayed such a tremendous amount of support and everlasting friendship. Your efforts and spirit are commendable and will always be treasured. I know that the best is yet to come.
Aviv Ezra is Consul General of Israel to the Midwest.