By Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone and Shmuel Winiarz
Size-wise, Israel and Texas are leagues apart. Texas is the second-largest and second-most-populous American state, encompassing 268,820 square miles and home to over 27 million people. By contrast, Israel (including areas liberated in 1967) is approximately 10,720 square miles and contains a population a third of Texas, standing at 8.5 million people.
Yet beyond the differing dimensions, Texas and Israel share an identity rooted in shared values. Both are beacons of freedom and democracy, both possess a worldview grounded in religious values, and both are famous for their independent streak, causing each to follow its moral conscience, even when incongruent with global crosscurrents. Recently, a new chapter was opened in this potent friendship, boding well for the people of Texas and Israel.
Several weeks ago, Texas Governor Greg Abbott made his first visit to Israel, not only to tour the country, but to nurture the Texas—Israel relationship, the primary aim being the development of economic, diplomatic, and business ties. We had the honor of escorting the governor on his whirlwind 36-hour trip, planning the trip with his professional staff and the respective consulates, ensuring the trip was substantive, informative, and enjoyable.
The office of the governor of Texas was afforded proper prestige, as Governor Abbott first met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The prime minister discussed his son’s recent trip to Texas, and Governor Abbott spoke of his admiration of Israel from a distance, and now even more so, seeing her up close. On substantive issues, not only did Governor Abbott pledge to maintain Texas’s sanctions against Iran, but he went a step further in promising to encourage state lawmakers to enact new laws precluding local and state government entities in Texas from investing in Iran, or contracting with companies that do business in Iran. Discussions included how to combat BDS economic development regarding energy and water desalination, and reciprocal invitations were extended where Abbott invited Netanyahu to come to Texas, and Netanyahu invited Abbott to return for a longer trip in the near future.
The governor and his wife, First Lady Cecilia Abbott, intending to understand both the people and State of Israel, toured Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum) which they found to be an incredibly moving experience. The tour continued on to the Old City of Jerusalem, including King David’s tomb, the Western Wall tunnels, and the Western Wall itself, where the governor engaged in the hallowed tradition of inserting his own handwritten prayer note in its sacred cracks.
In the evening, we hosted a reception in the Rechavia neighborhood, where we brought together an array of prominent Israeli and Jewish figures to wine and dine with Governor Abbott. Each participant told their story, giving Governor Abbott a panoramic perspective of the Jewish people’s triumphs and travails. From representatives of the high-tech sector to Miriam Peretz, who lost two sons defending Israel, the soul of Israel came out in a way that a true Texan could especially appreciate.
The next morning, Governor Abbott started slightly south of Tel-Aviv, visiting the Sorek water desalination plant. Sorek was followed by Tel-Aviv proper, where at the law offices of Herzog, Fox Ne’eman, he met with 20 startup companies in the water, high-tech, and energy sectors.
The lone star in the state of Texas’s flag, the same as the republic of Texas’s national flag, symbolizes its independent spirit and identity as the only American state to have been its own independent country. Texas, under Governor Abbott, has consistently shown its steadfast support for Israel and the values Israel embodies. While the current U.S. administration equivocates about the U.S.—Israel relationship, Texas has demonstrated its storied independent streak, showing its governor and people to be true friends of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Israel often feels alone, living in the rough-and-tumble Middle East, and its own lone star, the Magen David (Star of David) symbolizes its hopeful yet sometimes solitary nature.
Having been privileged to help organize Governor Abbott’s first trip to Israel and experience a panoramic view of Israel with him, we believe that not only are these lone stars aligning, but that the Jewish and Israeli people can rest assured that “Houston, we have an ally,” in both Texas and Governor Abbott.Â v
Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone is the executive director of Shining City, an issue-advocacy organization. His recent projects have involved enhancing state relations with Israel, implementing and innovating education technology, and building a strong network of pro-Israel leaders. You can reach him at AL@shiningcitycommunity.com.
Shmuel Winiarz is the policy adviser for Shining City. He brings a wealth of policy and political knowledge to Shining City’s efforts, on both domestic and global issues, including the America—Israel relationship. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter at @ShmuelWiniarz.