Governor Christie in Israel: Meets Netanyahu, Visits Kosel


chris-christie-in-israel [Photos below.] New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie kicked off his first official overseas trip today, meeting Israel’s leader in a visit that may boost the rising Republican star’s foreign policy credentials ahead of November’s presidential election.

Christie, 49, is mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate in 2012 and a possible presidential candidate in 2016. He has brushed aside repeated appeals from top Republican donors about entering this year’s presidential race.

Christie’s Israel visit could raise speculation that he is positioning himself for a future run, and his trip will be watched by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Israel is a popular stop for American politicians on the rise seeking to bolster their international credibility while also appealing to Jewish constituents.

Speaking to reporters after visiting the Kosel, the holiest site where Jews can pray, located in the disputed Old City of Jerusalem, Christie played down any political significance of his trip, calling it a chance for him and his family to see the country.

“Anything I do fuels speculation for a future bid,” Christie told The Associated Press, wearing a yarmulke with his name embroidered on it. “I am here because this is a place of enormous significance in the world.”

But even Christie’s brief visit to the Kosel highlighted his growing popularity. Tourists stopped to shake his hand and pose for pictures. Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, rov of the Kosel, gave him a personal tour, saying that politicians who visit tend to win elections. Christie held a six-month-old baby and posed for a picture.

Earlier, Christie met Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. The governor said the two had a “really good and fruitful discussion” about regional issues, including Iran’s disputed nuclear program and expanding trade between Israel and New Jersey.

“There is much in common between Israel and New Jersey. Your territory and ours are similar, as are the number of residents, though it’s possible that the residents of New Jersey have better neighbors,” Netanyahu said.

There was “never any question about where we were coming first,” Christie told Netanyahu at the start of their meeting. Later Monday, the two men were to have a private dinner with their wives.

He will travel to Jordan later this week for talks with King Abdullah II.

Christie endorsed Mitt Romney’s bid for president in October, ending months of speculation over whether he would run. He hasn’t said yet whether he’ll seek re-election as governor next year, leaving the door open to a vice presidential bid. He is consistently rumored to be on Romney’s short list.

Christie’s trip, billed “Jersey to Jerusalem,” is a trade and diplomacy mission, according to his office. The meeting with Netanyahu was the first in a series of talks with senior Israeli business and political leaders, including President Shimon Peres on Tuesday.

Christie’s spokeswoman, Maria Comella, rejected suggestions that Christie was laying the groundwork for a run for national office, either this year or in 2016. She said it’s “a common tradition for New Jersey governors to go to Israel” because of the state’s economic links to Israel. She also noted New Jersey’s cultural ties with Israel because of the state’s large Jewish population.

Christie is traveling with his family and a delegation of 13 business and religious leaders. While in Israel, he plans to tour a pharmaceutical facility with an interest in expanding to the U.S., participate in a business round-table and visit a school.

The following are some of the people with Governor Christie in Israel:

Sol Barer, Senior Adviser and Former Chairman, Celgene

–       Dr. Barer serves as Chairman of BioNJ and as an adviser to a number of biotechnology and medical companies. He is currently the Chairman of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of Governor Christie’s Advisory Committee and previously served as a Commissioner of the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology. Dr. Barer was inducted into the NJBiz Hall of Fame in 2011 and was named as one of New Jersey’s top 10 scientists by New Jersey Business in 2011.

Kevin Rigby, Choose New Jersey Board Member and Vice President and Head of Public Affairs and Communications, Novartis

–       Mr. Rigby is currently a member of the Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation Executive Corporate Governance and Commercial Committees and also serves as President of Novartis Patient Assistance Foundation, Inc. Mr. Rigby is a Choose New Jersey founding board member and chairs the New Jersey Workplace Blood Donor coalition, as well as serves as vice chair of the board of the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, as chair of the board for the National Pharmaceutical Council and as vice chair of the board of the Alliance for Aging Research.

Mark Levenson, Chairman of the New Jersey-Israel Commission

–       Mr. Levenson was appointed Chairman of the New Jersey-Israel Commission in 2010 and has received numerous awards for his volunteer activities and significant professional and pro bono work for various non-profit organizations, including A Better Chance, The Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and The Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic.

Jacob Toporek, Executive Director, New Jersey Association of Jewish Federations

–       Mr. Toporek is currently a member of the New Jersey-Israel Commission and has previously served as a member of the national council of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of Metro West New Jersey and the national young leadership cabinets of United Jewish Appeal and the American Technion Society in New Jersey.

Rabbi Aaron Kotler, Chief Executive Officer, Beth Medrash Govoha

–       Rabbi Kotler currently serves as CEO of Beth Medrash Govoha, the nation’s largest Rabbinical College and is also a board member at a number of charitable organizations including the Lakewood Community Services Corporation, The Warm Home Project, Monsey Academy for Girls, Project Gesher and MRA Publications.

Max Kleinman, Executive Vice President, United Jewish Communities of Metro West New Jersey

–       Mr. Kleinman previously served as the executive director of the Jewish Federation in Minneapolis and in leadership positions in Federations based in Atlanta and Milwaukee. He is also a past president of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North American and the World Council of Jewish Communal Service.

Josh Pruzansaky, New Jersey Regional Director of Public Policy at the Orthodox Union Institute for Public Affairs

–       Mr. Pruzansky began his work in the Jewish community in 1989 as the executive director of the Yeshiva of the Telshe Alumni in Riverdale and later as executive director of Rabbi Peach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison from 1998- 2002. In 2005, Josh co-founded Yeshiva Me’on HaTorah in Roosevelt.

Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, Founder and Executive Director of the Chabad House of Central and Southern New Jersey

–       Rabbi Carlebach develops, directs and organizes youth activities and educational programs for the Chabad House of Central and Southern New Jersey at Rutgers University, as well as in over 100 communities throughout the state. The Chabad House of Central and Southern New Jersey is currently the largest Chabad House in the United States and the largest Jewish center on any public university campus.

Zeev Rubinstein, Vice President of Business Development, IDB Bank

–       Mr. Rubinstein joined IDB Bank in 2007, where his focus is to develop new business in the corporate lending area, as well as cultivate Israeli/Jewish community relations. He has significant experience in domestic and international marking and business development and currently serves as a board member of both the America-Israel Friendship League and the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce.

New Jersey State Senator Robert Singer

–       Senator Singer represents the 30th Legislative District of New Jersey, which includes areas within Ocean, Monmouth, Burlington and Mercer counties. Senator Singer currently serves as Republican Conference Leader and as the senior member of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and as a member of the Senate Economic Growth Committee. Senator Singer is currently on the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology and previously served as mayor of Lakewood for four terms.

Paul Singer, Chief Executive Officer, Elliott Management Corporation

–       Mr. Singer currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, on the Board of Advisors of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University and on the Board of Fellows of Harvard Medical School. Mr. Singer is also the founder and CEO of The Paul E. Singer Family Foundation, which supports many philanthropic organizations.

Dan Senor, Senior Adviser, Elliott Management

–       Mr. Senor also serves as adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Prior to joining Elliott Management, he served as a civilian official in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 as a senior adviser and chief spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition. He is also the co-author of the New York Times bestseller Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.

Annie Dickerson, Director of Philanthropy, Policy and Strategic Development, Paul E. Singer Family Foundation

–       Ms. Dickerson oversees Philanthropy, Policy and Strategic Development at the Paul E. Singer Family Foundation, which supports philanthropic projects in a range of areas, including human rights in the developing world, medical research and military veterans’ support programs. She previously served as the Chief of Staff to the US Ambassador to Switzerland from 2001 to 2003.

William Palatucci, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Public Affairs, Community Education Centers and New Jersey National Committeeman, Republican National Committee

–       Prior to joining Community Education Centers, Mr. Palatucci was a partner in the law firm of Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci, P.C., founding and heading the firm’s government affairs department. He also served as Co-Chairman of the Inaugural Committee for Governor Christie and Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno and is currently a member of the National Advisory Board for the Heldrich Center for Workplace Development at Rutgers University, a member of the Board of Trustees for the University of Phoenix/Jersey City Campus and a member of the Board of Visitors at the Seton Hall University School of Law.

See below for photos:

{Noam Newscenter/The Associated Press contributed to this report/Photos: Star Ledger, AP, Temunotography}