NEW JERSEY — It’s a precarious time in one of the most polarizing corners of the world, but Governor Phil Murphy visited Israel to deepen New Jersey’s relationship with the nation. Days after attacks in the territory — which killed dozens of Palestinians, including children, and sparked a return of rocket fire — the governor stressed his support for Israel.
“Thank you for having us, Mr. President @Isaac_Herzogwrote Gov. Phil Murphy, tweet a photo Tuesday with him and the leader of Israel. “It was an honor to meet you and reaffirm the strong relationship between New Jersey and Israel. I look forward to deepening the economic and cultural bond between New Jersey and Israel.”
The governor and first lady Tammy Murphy visited Israel on Saturday – the day after Israel began a series of bombardments against Islamic Jihah positions in the Gaza Strip. The attacks killed at least 44 Palestinians, including 15 children, and injured hundreds in the territory, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
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Islamic Jihad fired hundreds of rockets in response. Most were blown up or intercepted, but three people were injured while 31 others suffered minor injuries, according to Israeli authorities.
Several pro-Palestinian organizations in New Jersey have expressed disappointment in Murphy for making the trip.
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“His actions and steadfast support for Israel – especially amid Israel’s bombardment of Gaza earlier this week that killed 15 Palestinian children – can only result in a lack of interest and support for Muslim and Palestinian voters. Americans,” Dina Sayedahmed – communications manager for the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations – Patch said via email.
Israel claimed victory in the weekend attacks, in part because the Israel Defense Forces killed two Islamic Jihad commanders. The nation has attributed 14 deaths to rockets fired by Islamic Jihad that failed. But Islamic Jihad and Hamas – the militant group that rules Gaza – have held Israel responsible for all the deaths, but Islamic Jihad told Reuters it was investigating.
Egypt negotiated a ceasefire on Sunday evening, which halted the air raids. But both parties reserve the right to react if the ceasefire is violated.
The Murphys returned to New Jersey on Thursday, according to the Governor’s Office public schedule. The governor has not taken a public stance on the deadly attacks, and a spokesperson for Murphy did not respond to questions from Patch about the trip.
Why Murphy went to Israel
New Jersey’s relationship with Israel dates back decades, with the Garden State and Jewish state recognizing a formal sister-state agreement in 1988. The special partnership was born out of “shared values and ideals,” but also has economic benefits , according to the New Jersey-Israel Commission. Bilateral trade between New Jersey and Israel totaled $1.55 billion last year.
New Jersey passed a 2016 law, with nearly unanimous support from the state legislature, that prohibited the state from investing its pension and annuity funds in companies that boycott Israel or Israeli businesses. The legislation says the state “is deeply concerned about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) effort,” referring to a pro-Palestine movement that seeks to end international support for Israel.
Murphy also visited Israel in 2018 to strengthen New Jersey’s economic ties with the nation. The governor – then in his freshman year – met with officials and companies in science, technology and cybersecurity – three aspects in which Israel is a development hub.
Murphy’s first trip to Israel as an executive has been widely publicized by the governor’s office, with daily press releases about what he did there. The Murphy administration took a different approach in terms of publicizing this trip. In March, the Murphy administration shared data showing deepening relations between Israel and New Jersey, with annual trade up $311 million.
But unlike Murphy’s similar trip to Ireland in April – announced a month in advance, the administration remained silent on the trip to Israel. The administration mentioned the Aug. 5 trip in its daily email to the media that includes the next day’s public schedule for Phil and Tammy Murphy. The governor tweeted some photos of himself with dignitaries and his trip to the Western Wall.
The trip involved trips to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah with the Center for Innovative Policy – a Democratic-leaning think tank. From there, the governor “would host a series of economic development meetings to deepen corporate ties to benefit New Jersey,” according to the schedule.
In Ramallah – a Palestinian city in the West Bank – Murphy met with Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Ziad Abu Amr. They discussed “our strong cultural and economic ties,” Murphy tweeted Thursday.
But the strengthening of economic ties with Israel shows a lack of support for Palestine, according to Wassim Kanaan, vice president of the New Jersey chapter of American Muslims for Palestine. Kanaan called on Murphy to engage with civil society and Palestinian advocates.
“Israel’s economic strength is propelled by the theft of Palestinian resources and the blatant discriminatory allocation of basic resources,” he said. “Palestinian farmers, who contract with New Jersey-based grocery stores in Paterson, are struggling to compete with production companies in illegal Israeli settlements. That Governor Murphy is expressing optimism about New Jersey’s strengthening economic ties with Israel is alarming.
It is the governor’s eighth trip to Israel since 2014 and his third since being elected governor, according to Forward.
Murphy told the publication he hadn’t thought of postponing the trip amid Israel’s military offensive and retaliatory attacks from Islamic Jihad.
“I never let the circumstances of the moment stop me from going,” Murphy told Forward. “If you’re not with people you claim to be friends with us in difficult times, then what kind of friend are you?”
Murphy spoke out against the May 11 murder of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a journalist for decades in the Palestinian territories and the Middle East.
“Horrified by the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Journalism and journalists are essential to democracy, and an independent and objective investigation is needed,” Murphy said May 15.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded on June 24 that the Israeli army shot and killed Abu Akleh.
“It has been three months since NJ resident Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces,” Sayedahmed said. “At the time, Governor Murphy said he was ‘horrified’ by her death, but Israeli forces have yet to be held accountable. His friendly visit to Israel contrasts sharply with the sentiments he expressed.
Support for Israel remains popular
Israel – a close ally of the United States – still has the support of the majority of Americans, according to a poll. A March Gallup poll showed that 55% of American adults sympathized more with Israel than with Palestine, and 26% said the opposite.
But the poll showed a decrease in support for Israel and an increase in support for Palestine, compared to previous years. And Democrats showed almost identical support for Israel (40%) and Palestine (38%). The poll found a similar trend among young adults – 40% supporting Israel and 37% supporting Palestine among 18-34 year olds.
Amnesty International said in February that “Israeli authorities must be held accountable for committing the crime of apartheid against the Palestinians.” The rights group argued that Israel’s governance of Palestine constitutes apartheid under international law through “massive seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfers, drastic restrictions on movement and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians”.
But the most recent attacks have produced polarizing responses. The Jewish Federation of North America, which has several chapters in New Jersey, condemned last weekend’s “acts of aggression” against Israel.
“We must urge our elected officials to publicly support Israel’s right to self-defense against terrorists and thank those who have already done so,” the organization said.
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