A state trade mission to a foreign country rarely results in an iconic image. But Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan achieved that during a weeklong visit to Israel last month.
A photo of Hogan, a green kippah on his head, eyes closed in prayer at the Western Wall, made the rounds on social media and caused some confusion about the governor’s religious affiliation.
“We put it on Facebook, and several people said ‘I didn’t even know Gov. Hogan was Jewish,’” the Republican governor said. “I was praying pretty devoutly and people got confused.”
Seated in his office in Annapolis for an interview last week, Hogan was amused at the confusion, although he said the hopes embedded in those prayers were serious.
“I prayed for the nation of Israel and the Israeli people,” he said. “I prayed for the people of Maryland and that we could further our wonderful relationship together. And I prayed for a cure for cancer, and for a cure for cancer victims and their families around the world.”
Hogan, 60, said he is feeling “terrific” after finishing his final round of chemotherapy on Oct. 3. He called it largely a preventative measure to make sure the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma he was diagnosed with in 2015 does not return.
Atop his desk was a model Southwest Airlines jet decorated with the design of the Maryland flag. His trip to Israel was his second overseas trade mission since becoming governor last year. With a 71 percent approval rating in a state dominated by Democrats and several new businesses and academic partnerships coming from his Israel trip, Hogan had much to be pleased about.
“In Israel, it was like [being welcomed back by] an old friend, because Maryland and Israel have had a tremendous relationship for so many years. Our goal was to solidify it and make it better and stronger,” he said.
One result of the trip is a five-year extension of the collaboration between the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The new agreement will lead to additional student and faculty exchanges as well as joint research opportunities, Hogan said.
“That was an extension of an already existing relationship, and we’re just hoping to make it even more fruitful,” he said. “Both the leadership of Hebrew University and University of Maryland, Baltimore, President [Jay Perman] were thrilled with the already-in-place relationship and they were excited about expanding.”
Hogan said he also expects partnerships to form between Maryland’s universities and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which has a cybersecurity lab.
“They’ve become the cyberhub of Israel and Maryland is the cyberhub of America, so we think there’s a lot of synergy and things that we can work on together,” he said.
An immediate result of the trip is a partnership between the Israeli company Cyberbit and Baltimore’s Electronic Technology Associates. Hogan said it will create 100 jobs with the creation of a cybersecurity training center in Baltimore.
Hogan said, overall, the Israel mission will have a more short-term impact on Maryland than last year’s mission to Asia, which included stops in South Korea, China and Japan. The biggest outcomes of that trip were small-business partnerships and an investment by the Japanese in studying the potential for a high-speed rail line between Baltimore and Washington, similar to Japan’s Maglev train.
While the Asia agreements could take years to bear economic fruit locally, partnerships with Israeli companies will begin within the next year, Hogan said.
Israel has an established presence in Maryland, with 24 Israeli companies doing business here.
Hogan said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not available to meet with the Maryland delegation. The governor was scheduled to meet with former President Shimon Peres. But Peres had a stroke during the trip; he died the day after Hogan left.
“[Peres] was a tremendous leader and a peacemaker that I was looking forward to having the honor of meeting, and it’svery sad,” Hogan said.
Hogan has distanced himself from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and has declined to endorse him. With less than a month until Election Day, Hogan said he plans to stay out of the current national political fray.
“We’re staying focused on Maryland. It seems like that’s what most people want us to do,” said Hogan, who during the primary season endorsed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “The people of Maryland didn’t elect me to be a national political pundit or a partisan Republican activist.
“I’m not thrilled with either candidate in the race,” he said, referring to Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. “I’m telling people to vote their conscience.”