'The better integrated, the stronger we are'

Connecticut governor leading fintech, business delegation to Israel next week

Ned Lamont, who sees the Nutmeg State turning into the Start-Up State, will meet with Bennett, Herzog, Lapid and Israeli entrepreneurs during five-day trip

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont delivers the State of the State address during opening session at the State Capitol, on Wednesday, February 9, 2022, in Hartford, CT. (AP/Jessica Hill)
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont delivers the State of the State address during opening session at the State Capitol, on Wednesday, February 9, 2022, in Hartford, CT. (AP/Jessica Hill)

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced on Tuesday that he will be visiting Israel with a business and innovation delegation from his state next week.

Joining Lamont on the five-day trip will be the University of Connecticut’s interim president, executives from Connecticut Innovations, the state’s strategic venture capital arm, Raytheon Technologies’s vice president for international government relations, the executive director of Connecticut’s Jewish Federation Association, and the CFO of Digital Currency Group.

Ruth Porat, CFO of Google parent firm Alphabet, will also be traveling to Israel for meetings, but is not part of the official delegation.

“It’s celebrating our mutual entrepreneurial cultures,” Lamont told The Times of Israel last week during a Zoom conversation. “We have a lot in common. Big Jewish population here in Connecticut.  We love Israel, and we’re going to reinforce that.”

Lamont, a Democrat in his third year in Hartford’s Governor’s Residence, will meet Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, President Isaac Herzog, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

The 68-year-old former businessman lands in Israel on Friday.

“We’ve been trying to get to Israel for a couple of years,” said Lamont, who was forced to delay the trip because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This will not be the governor’s first trip to Israel. As a telecommunications executive, he came in the mid-2000s with the Young President’s Association, and was in Israel and neighboring countries more recently as a board member of the NGO Mercy Corps.

Lamont said that he wants to show Connecticut’s business community that “Israel is the startup nation, an incredibly entrepreneurial country.”

“And by the same token, we would like to see what some of those Israeli companies think about Connecticut.”

Beyond Israeli politicians, the delegation with meet with Israeli fintech leaders, and will host a “Ventureclash,” the state’s global venture challenge for early-stage companies.

“It’s an opportunity for young entrepreneurs with a dollar and a dream — or a shekel and a dream — who want to start up a business,” Lamont explained.

Tel Aviv fintech professionals, on April 3, 2017. (Screenshot/Startup Lithuania Facebook page)

He also wants to get more Israeli investors and companies to look at Connecticut as a promising state in which to do business.

“We started up 15,000 businesses last year,” Lamont said. “We’re in our own humble way a start-up state, just like Israel is the start-up nation. I’m going to tell them that we have some of the best-trained workers, best workforce in the world. We make jet engines, Sikorsky helicopters, submarines. But in addition, we have a big fintech, social media presence as well.”

Israel and Connecticut already enjoy a robust business relationship. Israel is the #17 global destination for the state’s exports, totaling over $175 million in 2020, especially in aerospace, according to Lamont’s spokesman.

The trip was facilitated by the United States-Israel Business Alliance, an organization that specializes in business development missions to Israel for governors.

Connecticut, a small New England state with over 3.5 million residents, has one of the highest median incomes in the country.

Lamont expects Israeli officials to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic as well. He recently announced that he was removing a statewide mask mandate.

“There’s a lot of exhaustion with the rules,” he said, “and I think the people of the United States, and Connecticut, have earned the right for more freedom. Because you now have the ability to keep yourself safe.”

Officials from Connecticut — the most vaccinated state in the union — have learned from Israel’s experience, according to the governor. “Israel was 2-4 weeks ahead of the northeast in terms of COVID and all the different variants. So we followed your lead very carefully.”

A vial of the Pfizer vaccine is shown on December 18, 2020, in West Hartford, CT. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn, Pool)

Still, as in other states, the pandemic has caused a host of other challenges beyond public health.

“COVID unleashed a lot of demons,” Lamont said. “We’ve had a lot of violence. We’ve had a lot of suicide and domestic abuse. We’ve had a lot of hate crimes. And we’ve had a lot of antisemitism. Maybe not on a worldwide scale, but the swastikas spray-painted on the walls of synagogues, it’s been shocking.”

In March 2021, at the start of Passover, a 21-year old UConn student spraypainted a swastika on a wall facing the campus Hillel House. The man was caught and arrested.

“We’ve worked very closely with the Jewish community,” Lamont explained. “We’ve got a [state] security grant so that they know that they can keep their synagogue open, they know they can do that safely.”

“We have absolutely zero tolerance for antisemitism or any other type of racially inspired crime. That is wrong and we’re coming like a ton of bricks as needed.”

A Yad Vashem security guard in the empty Hall of Names in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, on April 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lamont will spend time at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on his trip, and will stress the importance of facing the past to his constituents.

“Don’t deny the past,” he said. “It’s extraordinary. You’ve got to learn from the past. Here in this country, there’s something called critical race theory, they want to downplay the Holocaust. They want to downplay things we have to learn from… It’s important to learn from the past and make damn sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Lamont, a Democrat, is not worried that support for Israel is slipping in his party.

“I think there’s as strong bipartisan support for Israel as there’s been at any time in my life, and I’m old,” he said with a smile. “Some of the college campuses, some of the folks in Congress, but I think it’s a small minority. I think the prime minister works very collaboratively on both sides of the aisle, has a strong understanding of making sure that Israel is not a partisan issue, and I think the support for Israel is as strong as ever.”

He doesn’t anticipate any criticism from constituents as a result of this trip to Israel. In fact, quite the opposite.

“I believe in economic integration. The better integrated, the stronger we are.”

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