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Sunday, October 20, 2019

One bedrock principle of the U.S.-Israel alliance, at the national and state level, is that the partnership is built on shared democratic values and also on substantial joint ventures that are mutually beneficial. One place where this principle is readily evident is in the work of the state of New Jersey’s New Jersey-Israel Commission.

Established by New Jersey Governor Tom Kean in 1989, the New Jersey-Israel Commission was charged with implementing the goals of a New Jersey-Israel Sister State Agreement created the year before by the governor. The goals were to foster trade and cultural and educational exchanges, to expand capital investment and joint business ventures and to promote a spirit of cooperation among the citizens of the two states.

The Commission’s mandate was continuously endorsed by executive orders of New Jersey Governors James J. Florio, Christine T. Whitman, James E. McGreevey and Jon S. Corzine. Initially situated in the New Jersey Commerce Commission, in July 2007 the New Jersey-Israel Commission came under the umbrella of the New Jersey Department of State.

In July 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy appointed Andrew Gross as executive director of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, in the interest of expanding the work of the group.

In the press release announcing the appointment, Governor Murphy remarked: “As global innovation leaders, New Jersey and Israel have enjoyed a special relationship for decades, a relationship which I have continued to highlight and build upon since my visit to Israel last year. I’m thrilled to bring Andrew onto our team so he, alongside the board (of the commission), can focus on enhancing that relationship, to build on our cultural and economic ties, so that both New Jersey and Israel can benefit from continued economic growth, shared expertise in cutting-edge technology, and an expanded friendship.”

Andrew Gross is ideally suited to lead the commission to a heightened level of activity. For the past seven years he served as director of political affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. He worked closely with Ambassadors Dani Dayan and Ido Aharoni during their respective terms as consul general and acted as the primary liaison to federal, state and local officials in the New York/New Jersey region. He also worked closely with leaders of Jewish organizations and faith-based groups, community groups, non-governmental organizations, think tanks and industry leaders. He was raised in Bergen County and has a B.A. in international affairs from George Washington University.

In an interview with The Jewish Link, Gross sketched out his immediate plans for the Commission’s work. He intends to focus at least 50% of the commission’s efforts on economic development, “to bring the best of Israel to New Jersey and reap benefits for New Jersey citizens, and to work with New Jersey state agencies and drive more business and trade between both states.” He sees particular promise in the fields of aviation, hi-tech, finance and food and noted that, according to figures from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the current volume of trade between the two states is $1.24 billion annually.

Gross sees much opportunity for growth in bilateral trade and pointed out that New Jersey has the fourth-largest Israel-born population in the country, which provides a solid foundation of strong ties in both countries.

His other short-term goals for the commission are similarly ambitious. He wants to foster more diversity within the commission’s membership, so the group better reflects the diversity of the state and more communities play an active role in expanding ties between the two states. He looks forward to working with the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security, to assist in meeting New Jersey’s security needs by bringing in Israeli expertise in the fields of technology, training and search and rescue. He also plans to initiate more academic and cultural exchanges.

His long-term vision is for the Commission to become the “first address” to assist Israeli businesses looking to establish hubs in New Jersey, by helping to streamline state regulations and to navigate through New Jersey government. He cites as a model the governor persuading Teva Pharmaceuticals to create a presence in New Jersey in 2018; this led to a capital expenditure of $143.8 million and the creation of 843 new jobs in New Jersey.

Gross encourages Jewish community members to support the work of the commission, by “contacting us if their company is engaged in or seeks to engage in business opportunities with Israeli companies.” He wants to learn more about current bilateral commercial ties and help to remove roadblocks if they exist. He also invites suggestions on new initiatives, from academics, entrepreneurs and community leaders.

“I’m extremely happy with the hiring of Andrew Gross as executive director of the commission,” said Mark Levenson, co-chair of the real estate department of Sills, Cummis, & Gross, P.C. and chairman of the New Jersey-Israel Commission. “I’ve known him for seven years in his work at the consulate and always found him constructive and pleasant to work with, even with complicated issues. I thought he’d be a great hire for the commission.”

“I’ve been chair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission for 10 years, and involved with the group for 20 years,” Levenson continued. “The New Jersey Commission is the only state commission that is enacted legislatively so it rests on strong relationships and can reach into all sectors of New Jersey state government. This gives our commission tremendous potential.”

The commission can be contacted via its website at https://nj.gov/state/njic.shtml.

By Harry Glazer