The state of Israel celebrates today its 66th year of independence. As a small nation located in a tough neighborhood, Israel has made international cooperation one of its main goals. So while it is no secret that Israel’s closest ally in the United States, not many people know that of all the 50 states, Israel’s relationship with the state of Florida is one of the strongest.
As consul general of Israel to Florida, I have had the unique opportunity to witness firsthand over the past few years the building of a new level of cooperation, brick by brick. I would like to mention here just of few of the bigger “bricks”:
First, in the economic realm, Florida and Israel signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in August to promote collaborative research, development and commercialization of projects related to space. For Israel this means an expansion of its economic cooperation abroad, and for Florida it means maintaining and strengthening its space sector despite NASA’s recent pullout.
Under this agreement, the governments of Israel and Florida are matching each other, dollar for dollar, to establish a fund to provide grants to Israeli and Florida companies that present joint research ideas for innovative space technologies. The grant fund will be budgeted at $2 million a year, half from each side.
Partnering with countries that value and invest in next-generation space and aerospace technology development and commercialization falls directly within Space Florida’s mission of ensuring a robust high-tech industry. Florida’s and Israel’s goals and resources in these areas are complementary. We look forward to enhancing Florida’s economy through this partnership.
This MOU is a great example of how the strong ties between the people of Florida and Israel have the power to create vital economic benefits for both states. This new agreement will be a win-win for both.
• Also this past year, Florida’s investments in Israel’s “miracle” economy were strengthened and expanded. Today, the state of Florida, through the State Board of Administration (SBA), is investing approximately $250 million in Israeli government bonds and private equities, making Florida one of the biggest investors in Israel among the 50 states. That portion of Florida’s public funds that is invested in Israel is now better protected and growing faster because of Israel’s recently upgraded credit rating — itself a bright rarity in today’s sluggish global economy.
The business sector as well is benefiting from today’s burgeoning Florida-Israel partnership. A few months ago, Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency, opened an office in Tel Aviv to help facilitate economic and business cooperation between the two states — making Florida one of the few states with such an office in Israel. This was a critical factor in the recent decision by several Israeli companies to expand and relocate to Florida. Noteworthy, too, is the fact that the largest ever acquisition by an Israeli company abroad was TEVA Pharmaceutical’s purchase of Florida’s IMAX Corp. in 2006 for $7.4 billion.
In the security realm as well, the Florida-Israel relationship is unique in its breadth and depth. The passage of several recent legislative and cabinet acts distancing Iran and its business partners from Florida’s economy have been and remain crucial to the protection of Florida investments and U.S. national interests, as well as the strengthening of the national security of Israel.
Just as vital to Florida’s security is the recently strengthened implementation of the revolutionary Protecting Florida's Investments Act of 2007, requiring the State Board of Administration to identify, scrutinize and divest from all companies doing business with Iran in which public moneys are invested.
Other states have taken notice and followed Florida’s groundbreaking example. Indeed, Florida’s pioneering Iran divestment enforcement laws have become the basis of similar, and sometimes identical, legislation passed by approximately three dozen other states throughout the union.
Today, as Israel marks its 66th year, it is proud to be able to count among its closest friends the citizens of Florida, who have made this unprecedented cooperation possible. Thank you for your friendship.
Chaim Shacham is consul general of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico.