I didn’t have a lot of forewarning that Consul General of Israel to the Midwest Roey Gilad would be at Sheraton City Centre on April 30, available for an interview. But when I arrived at the conference center, I knew I was in the right place. That is, I heard Hebrew being spoken. Men, some in military and police uniform — but most in two-piece suits — were hobnobbing at the tables set up in front of a podium.
I'd just walked into the tail end of the Indiana-Israel Business Exchange. The items being exchanged here, however, weren’t brochures on hummus. This was a networking opportunity for technology and defense industry companies located in Indiana looking to do business (or more business) in Israel or vice versa. Representatives of both Israeli and American companies were in the room. Also present were reps from the Indiana National Guard, Indiana Department of Homeland Security, and the Indiana State Police, looking for the latest gadgetry and training opportunities. Indiana Economic Development Corporation staffers were also in the room — the Hoosier counterparts to the Defense Export and Defense Cooperation organization (SIBAT) within the Israeli Ministry of Defense (who were there as well).
I barely had time to catch my breath before Governor Mike Pence walked into the room to deliver the closing remarks. Pence was smiling and relaxed: he clearly knew a lot of people in the room already. They seemed happy to see him.
I witnessed Pence greet the Honorable Roey Gilad, who had accompanied Pence on his trip to Israel four months ago. It wasn’t surprising to me that Pence was getting more love from the Mideast than from the Midwest after his epic RFRA debacle.
Well, he was getting more love, at least, from a certain part of the Mideast.
When in Israel last December, Pence created a small controversy at a Christmas Eve dinner hosted by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Pence, according to a December 30 story in The Indianapolis Star, declined an invitation to sit at the head table with Abbas during this meal. He also declined an offer to meet privately with Abbas. So much for Pence working to find common ground between Israelis and Palestinians.
Anyway, I’ll spare you details of Pence’s platitude-heavy speech; saying Indiana is a state that works, that values family just like Israel, etc. — but some of the statistics he cited are worth noting.
Indiana exported $57.2 million in goods to Israel in 2013, a 61 percent increase over 2005. And in the years 2010 -2013, Indiana imported an average of $154 million in goods from Israel. And Pence talked about wanting to increase these numbers.
But I wasn’t here to talk to Pence. After he left the conference room, I was able to sit down for a brief chat with Gilad, who is the highest ranking Israeli official based in the Midwest. Like many Israelis who work abroad, Gilad has an impressive resume. He has served in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 26 years. His previous position at the Ministry was the head of the Export Control Department. In addition to speaking Hebrew and English, he’s also fluent in Arabic and knowledgeable in French. He’s also an avid marathoner.
There were many questions that I wanted to ask Gilad but not a lot of time. If I had had foreknowledge that representatives of Raytheon would be present, I might’ve asked him about the Raytheon-manufactured Paveway II smart bomb deployed by the Israelis in the Gaza Strip during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge. (This assault left over 2,000 Palestinians dead. Five Israeli civilians, including one child, were killed by rocket attacks from Gaza during this conflict, as well as 66 Israeli Defense Forces soldiers.)
The Waltham, MA.-based Raytheon is also one of the companies behind the Iron Dome Defense Shield that helped protect Israel against missiles launched from Gaza during that conflict. Raytheon recently won a contract to build portions of that system in Indy. If Raytheon does expand its manufacturing capabilities in Indiana, it will be interesting to see whether the expansion is related to defensive or offensive weaponry — and to see where that weaponry will be heading.