By Jack Wisniewski
On Monday night, Chris Shank, Gov. Larry Hogan’s chief legislative officer, spoke about his experience visiting Israel alongside Hogan. Shank showed a slideshow and presented his original speech to around 30 students in the Rosenbloom Hillel Center.
“When I joined the administration, I knew I’d be doing a lot of different things,” Shank said. “Planning a trip to Israel and going, was not one of them.”
Hogan spent a week in Israel in the latter half of September with the company of state officials, cabinet secretaries, business executives, Jewish community leaders and higher education officials who preside throughout Maryland. These leaders worked on an economic development mission while in Israel, Shank said.
“We had to pay the bills,” Shank said. “[Hogan] ran as a candidate that would bring business opportunities to the state of Maryland.”
Shank gave a chronological play-by-play of the mission by describing the multiple gatherings that Hogan and his team underwent in Israel. These included business talks with pharmaceutical and robotic companies, and the signing of memorandums of understanding between the University of Maryland Baltimore County and Tel Aviv University.
“The governor met with numerous companies and elected officials in order to strengthen cultural ties and promote Maryland as a gateway for Israeli companies seeking to establish U.S. operations,” Shank said.
Michael Friedman, a kinesiology professor at Maryland and the president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, gave accounts of the cultural aspects of the mission. This included one of their three visits to the Western Wall, during which Hogan placed a prayer in the wall regarding the health and peace of citizens for both Maryland and Israel.
“He read the prayer that he wrote to the delegation, and it was very moving because of his battle with cancer and his return to health. Thank goodness,” Friedman said. “I just feel humbled that he would share that with us.”
Terps for Israel, a bipartisan organization which seeks to work with different on-campus groups to educate students and members of congress about the importance of the relationship between Israel and the United States, organized the event to show people a different side of this binational relationship, said the club president, Sam Koralnik.
“We’ve been doing a lot of stuff for Chris Van Hollen’s and Steny Hoyer’s campaigns, who are both democrats, so bringing in Governor Hogan’s chief legislative officer was really important to us,” said Koralnik, a junior finance major. “It’s important to be bipartisan.”
Jacob Veitch, chairman of the College Republicans, said that they co-sponsored the event in order to promote the exchange of ideas between campus organizations.
“It’s great to welcome someone from the Hogan administration on campus,” said Veitch, a junior studying international business and government and politics. “But more than most other organizations, Terps for Israel does a great job promoting the dialogue we hope to promote as well.”
Veitch said that the event gave an insightful look at how Hogan benefits the state.
“It’s difficult to pay attention to state politics, especially with the national election the next morning,” Veitch said. “There’s a lot going on at the state and local level and it often affects us more than national politics do.”
Aaron Bernstein, a member of Terps for Israel and freshman government and politics major, said that he enjoyed hearing from someone close to Hogan.
“It was great to see Terps for Israel getting involved in the state government, which I think is criminally undervalued as a resource for advocacy,” Bernstein said. “I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how the governor will expand the Maryland-Israel relationship, both politically and economically.”
After Shank finished covering the details of the mission, Friedman discussed the importance of developing “on the ground knowledge” in order to understand the challenges that Israel faces and how the United States can play a part in resolving these issues.
“If all of you knew about Israel was from The Washington Post or The New York Times or CNN, you would think that it is a terrible, horrific place where everyone lives in constant fear,” Friedman said. “But to be in Israel and walk along the Mediterranean in Tel-Aviv, visit the wall in Jerusalem, and have a falafel is a part of the cultural experience that is so essential.”