Mayor Michael Nutter is set to touch down in Israel Nov. 7, and many in the local Jewish and business communities are hoping the visit takes the relationship between the City of Brotherly Love and the Jewish state to the next level.
Nutter, who left the country late last week to stop first in the United Kingdom, said in an official statement: “In a competitive global environment, cities cannot afford to sit back and wait for companies and investment to find them.
“Mayors must be aggressive,” he added, “in going out and finding opportunities, championing their cities, and that’s exactly what I intend to do in the United Kingdom and Israel. I am particularly excited about the opportunities created for the Philadelphia companies that are part of this delegation.”
The trip will include meetings with Israeli entrepreneurs and political leaders such as President Shimon Peres and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. The itinerary was put together by the Philadelphia Commerce Department with input from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Israeli Consulate and the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce.
Nutter’s visit comes amid reports that Israel’s foreign ministry is debating closing down the Philadelphia consulate, which has made bolstering economic ties with Israel and Philly a major priority.
While visiting the Jewish state has been seen as part of the job description for recent New York City mayors — the Big Apple has long been home to the country’s largest Jewish population — a sitting Philadelphia mayor hasn't visited Israel since Mayor Wilson Goode went in the 1980s.
From the time he was elected in 2007 after winning a hard-fought five-way primary, Nutter, an African-American, has expressed an interest in visiting Israel. Behind the scenes, Jewish and business leaders have leaned on him to do so, and he has often replied he was waiting for the right moment.
“For six years, he has been hearing this from me,” joked Robin Schatz, Federation’s director of government affairs and a participant on the mission. “We are hoping he is going to go back as a private citizen or even as mayor again. We are hoping to showcase Israel and its achievements.”
A spate of financial crises and other issues — most recently the enormous deficit faced by the school district of Philadelphia — have made it a potential political risk to stray too far from home.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last month that some politicos were criticizing Nutter for going abroad while facing so many challenges at home.
Some tax dollars are indirectly being used to fund the trip. Select Greater Philadelphia, an economic development and marketing organization that receives a little less than 10 percent of its $3 million annual budget from the city, is covering travel costs for Nutter and the other city officials.
Everyone else on the trip is covering the expenses privately.
Street, the former mayor, told the Inquirer, “These missions seemed to be more the purview of the state and required an awful lot of follow up, which was not practical for local governments in my judgment. I was more bothered that they would ultimately amount to little more than ‘junkets’ with no direct measurable benefit to the local tax-paying public.”
But David Hyman, a local American Jewish Committee board member who this past summer traveled to Israel on a trip led by State Sen. Anthony Williams, and also included City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, said, “Elected officials are always subject to this sort of criticism.”
Hyman, who is returning to Israel with Nutter’s delegation, said, “No one can question that the mayor’s priorities are the issues before him here at home. But the world is getting smaller and building ties among friends across the globe” is part of a mayor’s job.
“It doesn’t have a short-term or tangible benefit like filling a pothole or getting trash removed,” Hyman said of mayoral trips abroad. “It is important that our leaders have visions that go beyond that and beyond the mayor’s own term.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia will host Nutter for a Shabbat dinner at the Renaissance Hotel in Tel Aviv and lead him on a tour of the Old City in Jerusalem, as well as Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial. He is also slated to attend a VIP reception with the Jewish Federations of North America, which is holding its annual General Assembly in Jerusalem at the same time. He is also slated to visit the grave of Michael Levin, the Bucks County native who died in the 2006 war with Lebanon.
The mission will be split between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which for decades has had a sister-city relationship with Philadelphia.
According to Schatz, Marwan Kreidie, who is the founder of the Philadelphia Arab-American Community Development Corporation and a political science professor at Villanova University, is not part of the delegation but he is slated to join Nutter on a tour of Bethlehem. Nutter is expected to meet with Bethlehem’s mayor, Vera Babou, as well as Palestinians with ties to the Philadelphia area.
Schatz said the Arab-Israeli conflict will invariably come up, but the goal is to keep discussion of the conflict to a minimum on a trip that is first and foremost about business.
Leaders of Drexel University and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia are also part of the mayor’s delegation and are expected to take part in an announcement of a joint endeavor with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
While it is not clear how many business deals will get inked on the short trip, participants said the visit will lay the groundwork for more economic cooperation.
“Clearly, the mayor’s visit sends the right signal that Philadelphia is open to the Israeli business community,” said Randy Schultz, who is taking part in the trip and is the founder of America-Israel Business Lab, a company that helps Israeli firms commercialize their technology in Philadelphia.
Josh Cline, who heads a strategic marketing firm with offices in Philadelphia and Tel Aviv, said the trip “is going to raise Philadelphia’s profile in Israel.”
Cline, an executive board member of the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, added, “Israel has amazing entrepreneurs. The challenge for a lot of Israeli companies is coming to the United States.”
More than 30 city officials and business and civic leaders will be part of Mayor Michael Nutter’s delegation in Israel.
Participants include: Nancy Gilboy, president of the International Visitor’s Center; Seth Vogelman, trade representative for Pennsylvania; Brian Said, director of tourism for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau; Alice Solomon of Select Greater Philadelphia; Drexel University’s president, John Fry, and vice president, Julie Mostov; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia president Steve Altschuler and CHOP’s vice president of government affairs Peter Grolman.
The businesses leaders are: Steven Bradley of the African American Chamber; Josh Cline of the Cline Group, a marketing firm; Cliff Goldstein of the Amidex Mutual Fund; Michael Maher of Benjamin’s Desk, a shared workspace; Steven Nitchberger of ControlRad Systems, a biomedical firm; Michael Brown of Environmental Construction Services; Bruce Brownstein from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School; Randy Schultz of the America-Israel Business Lab; Michael Kelsen of MIRO Capital Partners, a private equity firm; Manish Ingle of NovaProbe, a medical equipment manufacturer; Mark Pinsley of Robin Hood, an investor group; and Wayne Kimmel of 76 Capital.
Other civic leaders participating in the mission or parts of it include Robin Schatz, who directs government affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia; Gail Norry, a Federation lay leader; John Saler, who chairs the Philadelphia International Airport Advisory Board; Beth Cohen, past president of the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce; David Hyman, who is deeply involved in city politics and has long served on the board of the American Jewish Committee local chapter; and Rabbi Lynnda Targin, a rabbi who lives in Philadelphia.
In addition to Nutter, the city officials slated to attend are: Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic development; Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and utilities; Luke Butler, Greenberger’s chief of staff; Desiree Pterkin-Bell, director of communication; Shinjoo Cho, director of international investment; Lauren Walker, a mayoral aid; and Kaitlin Privitera.