Gov. Chris Christie spoke before religious leaders at the Wednesday to relay information about his “extraordinary week” visiting Israel.
Aside from some time spent sightseeing with his wife and children last week, Christie also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, he told invited religious leaders.
Christie is also planning to hold similar meetings in other locations around the state to discuss his trip.
“It was fortuitous that we went during Holy Week,” he said. “I got an incredible sense about Jerusalem, and why it is important that it remains under Israeli control.”
“We saw people celebrating all religious traditions, and that is an important lesson to be reminded of,” he added. “Israel and the United States share the same values of freedom, liberty and everyone being allowed to worship as they see fit.”
The trip itself included religious leaders and other dignitaries representing different organizations in New Jersey.
Among other important information he gleaned, Christie said, he now better understands the importance of the different security measures taken by Israel on a daily basis. He said he had the opportunity to speak to a major in the Israeli army, who spoke of the fact that Syria, Lebanon and other countries can all be seen from the Golan Heights in Israel.
“That is extremely important for Israel,” he said. “I didn’t realize how important until I saw that.”
In addition, Christie said, he took a helicopter ride from the West Bank to the Mediterranean Sea, a trip that only took three minutes and is a total of about 9.5 miles.
“It informs the strategy of any general,” he said.
Aside from the governmental aspects of his trip, Christie said he also put a focus on economics, looking at ways to expand business from Israel into New Jersey, creating new jobs. He said he spoke to pharmaceutical companies and others about bringing jobs overseas.
“To go to Israel and hopefully bring back jobs is great,” he said. “We gave good reasons why the environment is changing, and we have the best work force here.”
“As we sat through meetings, I came to the conclusion that Israel is doing very well economically,” he added. “We met with entrepreneurs who are creating amazing things.”
Following his time in Israel, Christie said he spent the weekend with his family in Jordan, meeting with King Abdullah II.
“I was impressed with what a man of good will he is,” Christie said.
After talking about his trip, Christie took questions from the religious leaders in attendance about security and economics.
“It is extraordinary that in a country that has been under siege, the security you feel,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was surrounded by armed guards. No matter where you were walking, you felt completely secure, and that’s a testament to the atmosphere created.”
Christie said he met with representatives from Better Place, a global company developing electric cars, while in Israel, and one question focused on whether New Jersey should move forward with looking into that technology.
“We have to balance everything, the investment of the state and how well it would work,” Christie said. “We are having further conversations, but we were encouraged by this. Other energy sources are extremely important in New Jersey.”
Christie said he is hoping there will be more announcements in the coming months about other ways of pairing the economic climate between New Jersey and Israel, which was one of his key goals in going to the country. He has said since his election that he has wanted to visit Israel, and this was the first overseas trip of his term.
Apart from questions about the trip itself, a question was asked about the educational system, and changes Christie has been looking to make.
Christie said he still believes in offering merit pay, scholarship opportunities and expanding charter schools, which adds a little bit of competition to the mix.
“I can’t take solace in the fact that some of our kids are getting a good education until all of our kids are getting a good education,” he said. “Competition in every other part of American life makes everybody better, but somehow in education, we think it doesn’t.”
Instead, Christe said, educators believe competition will cause dissention and a lack of camaraderie.
“We are spending more money on the failure than on the success,” he said. “How much longer are we going to make those families wait? Because another year of waiting is another year of failure for their children.”
“You can never get those years back,” he added.
Also on the education issue, one woman asked about the possibility of a Jewish Cultural Education Commission, or some other organization to aid in providing Jewish knowledge to students in schools.
Christie said he is concerned about adding more regulations in public schools.
“I want to free up educators to decide what they think is most important to impart to our kids,” he said, adding that the state already requires Holocaust education, and teaching about state government in fourth grade.
“But we’re looking at it, and will probably say something before July,” he said.
Another question was asked concerning Jewish Heritage Month, which was signed by former President George Bush in 2006, and again by President Barack Obama in 2010. The woman said that if something was not required in the schools, at least there would be acknowledgement in local libraries and other locations about important Jews in the state.
Most importantly in the trip, Christie said, was the time he got to spend with his family in Israel, and to see them learn about the history, as well as the understanding he got about the country itself and the values it imparts.
“One of the most moving parts of the whole trip was standing there and listening to the history of Jersusalem, and hearing the call for Muslim prayer at the same time,” he said. “That’s what we should be striving for, for us to coexist in that way that gives sufficient room for all faiths to worship.”
Christie said it was amazing to bring his family there and get a basic understanding of how the country is run.
“We talk about the Middle East in a generalized way, but the only country that stands up for the values that are the bedrock of this country is Israel,” he said.