Carolina on my Mind

Anyone following the news this week will be aware that the United States is in trouble. Its vaunted political system is driving it to ungovernability and whilst the monied elite still finds ways to benefit from the slide into self-imposed paralysis, the overhwelming majority of the people are paying a steadily-rising price.

For Israelis, even more than for others among America’s traditional allies, this process cannot but generate deep concern — indeed, after the latest round of antics in Washington, alarm is justified and even required.

It is therefore all the more encouraging to find, in the midst of the gloom, confusion and disgust created by and felt toward from Washington, that there are still people engaged in constructive activity aimed at creating growth, jobs and stronger links between Israel and the US. Almost needless to say, this kind of effort is to be found not in DC, nor in New York, where long-term thinking means the profit and loss sheet for the next quarter.

I came across it, quite fortuitously, in Columbia, the state capital of South Carolina. On Tuesday this week,  a low-key ceremony was held in a shiny new office complex across from the imposing old state legislature — where, to my amazement, the Confederate flag (the’Stars and Bars’) proudly flutters in the wind. The event being marked was the signing of an agreement to promote joint ventures involving the two states — South Carolina and Israel. In and of itself, this is not dramatic or exciting stuff. It is actually the result of prolonged efforts, strethcing over three years, by some committed people on both sides, who are all convinced that a) there is a lot of potential business to be done between South Carolina and Israel and b) both sides have much to gain and very little to lose from pursuing thiese opportunities and turning the potential into reality.

So ‘ our man in Atlanta ‘, Opher Aviran — whose official title is Israeli Consul-General to the Southeast — and South Carolina’s Secretary of Commerce, Robert M. Hitt III (“call me Bob”), made the speeches and signed the documents that marked what everyone agreed was a milestone. Shai Robkin, the new president of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce in the South-East, highlighted the efforts of his recently-retired predecessor, Tom Glaser, to put South Carolina on the map of Israel’s trade bureaucrats and, via them, its business community. But it was Bill Mahoney, the CEO of SCRA — a local version of Israel’s Matimop that facilitates the commercialisation of new technologies — who put it best: “this is the end only of the initial stage, of formulating an agreement. It is the beginning of the real work”.

And with that, after the obligatory photos and press release, they all went back to work. Especially Jonathan Zucker, president of the Intertech Group and chairman of the South Carolina-Israel collaboration, the group of business people that he founded and leads that pushed hardest for the agreement to happen and are now looking to translate the vision and rhetoric into business deals and investment flows in both directions.

It is all so boring, so devoid in the kind of instant drama that might mkake the main TV news or become a hot item on the twittering nitwittery that is the social media. The kind of boring, humdrum stuff that people do every day to make a living, make theiur businessses grow, create jobs, generate trade and economic growth. The constructive, useful stuff that no-one pays much attnetion to. Not like the destructive, useless stuff in DC, where the lunatics have taken over the asylum and declared that “government is the problem”. They are the government and they are the problem, so they have got it at least.

Most Israeli business people have not heard of South Carolina, and hardly any could place it on the map. But they will. Just as an aside, it’s worth mentioning that Boeing made South Carolina the site of its first production facility outside of Seattle — kinda like Warren Buffet made his first ex-American investment in the Upper Galilee. I remember when the Israeli bureaucracy and business sector hadn’t heard of Georgia and were unaware of what was happening in and to Atlanta. But the days when the US consisted of two strips of light, one from Boston to Washington and one from San Francisco to Los Angeles, with a large black hole in between, are long gone.

If the US has a positive future, and if Israel-US business ties are going to develop further, places like South Carolina are going to become much more important — at the well-deserved expense of Washington DC.

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