By Jeremy Moss
Michigan State University Hillel, Spartans for Israel and the Michigan Jewish Conference recently co-sponsored the Michigan Israel Economic Partnership Forum and a series of events that focused on developing economic partnerships between Israel and Michigan. The events, which were held at the State Capitol and on the MSU campus, were made possible by a grant from the Avi Chai Foundation.
The forum featured a diverse platform of speakers who spoke with students about the need to strengthen the relationship between Michigan and Israel, the war on terrorism and improving homeland security. Two of the speakers, Israeli Minister of Economic Affairs Ron Dermer and Sterling Heights (Mich.) Police Chief Barnett Jones, said they believe Michigan can learn from the State of Israel.
"If Michigan wants to transform from a manufacturing economy to a high-tech economy, Israel is on the cutting edge of that," Dermer said.
Dermer also spoke about the Palestinian party Hamas, which recently won control of the Palestinian Authority's government. He said the way to handle oppressive governments in the Middle East, like Hamas, is to actively promote freedom and democracy.
"Concessions made to spread freedom in the Middle East will be worth it in the end," he said. "If the concessions Israel makes are linked to the progress in Palestinian society, we will be moving towards peace. If it's not, it will not end the conflict, and it will not end the war; it may actually deepen it."
Jones, with more than 30 years in law enforcement, said he is a strong supporter of the United States' fight against global terrorism and feels a more proactive approach is needed. While traveling to Israel for a training mission in April 2005 with other police chiefs from around the country, he said he immediately noticed the different strategies Israeli police apply to searching for terrorists.
"Israel has taken proactive steps," Jones said. "The U.S. has a long way to go to learn how to balance the need to protect individual rights and public safety for the greater good."
Susan Herman, director of the Michigan Jewish Conference, said the forum was an excellent venue to develop partnerships between Michigan and Israel.
"We're hoping this is the beginning of collaboration between the state of Michigan, a county in Michigan, a city in Michigan with the state of Israel," she said.
The forum was co-chaired by State Rep. Scott Hummel (R – DeWitt) and State Sen. Gilda Jacobs (D – Huntington Woods). Both Michigan lawmakers were part of a legislative mission to Israel in August 2005 sponsored by the Michigan Jewish Conference. They were joined at the forum by several state legislators who serve on key appropriations and finance committees, as well several Michigan mayors and their economic and trade advisors.
"Michigan is one of the few states that doesn't have an economic representative in Israel," Jacobs said. "Having Michigan representation in Israel is essential in transforming Michigan's economy from a manufacturing to a high-tech economy."
Cindy Hughey, executive director of MSU Hillel, was excited that students were heavily involved with the planning and execution of such a successful event.
"Our students were proud to be part of an event that has the potential for creating a dynamic partnership between the state of Michigan and Israel," Hughey said.
Jeremy Moss is a sophomore at Michigan State University.