A day after a terrorist attack hit New York, visiting Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner hinted at intelligence cooperation between his state’s law enforcement officials and Israel during an interview Wednesday with The Jerusalem Post.
The Republican governor, who arrived on Monday and will be leaving Friday, said that he had a “detailed discussion” with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan during his visit.
“We will be exchanging information, will have mutual visits from some of our security people, and leaders from Israel who will come to Illinois,” he said. “We have a very strong, effective anti-terrorist center and task force commission within the Illinois state police based in Springfield. We are constantly monitoring and sharing information both with the federal government, leaders of other states, and we look forward to have a close working relationship with leaders in Israel.”
Asked if this included intelligence cooperation, he replied, “cooperation on various levels.”
Rauner met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week, and said that 80-90% of that conversation dealt with economic issues, though security issues were also discussed, especially cybersecurity.
“We talked about the software and the mathematics and the engineering behind cybersecurity,” Rauner said. “The prime minister is very focused and knowledgeable about that.”
This was Rauner’s first meeting with Netanyahu, and he was full of praise.
“I have to say I loved him,” he said. “I thought he was awesome, I think the world of him, and we hit it off. I really, really appreciated the visit, and look forward to developing a strong relationship with him. I have great respect for him.”
Rauner, in office since 2015, is up for re-election in 2018. Asked if he received any pushback in his state about leading a delegation here, he replied, “none whatsoever.”
“I have always been very clear about my strong support for Israel, the Jewish community in Illinois and around America,” he said. “And frankly I believe very strongly in a very powerful, positive relationship between the people of Israel and the people of Illinois, to our mutual benefit.”
Rauner said this was his second visit to Israel, but first as governor.
“I came here seven years ago with my family as tourists. My wife is Jewish, we are raising our children as Jews — we brought them here and we visited around the country, totally fell in love with the country and the people,” he said.
“In fact, two of my children came back to visit and to live here for a period and to work a bit — our daughter lived down on Kibbutz Lotan in the Negev. I anticipate our children will be here quite a bit in the future.”
Rauner speaks proudly of the fact that as governor “I sponsored and signed the first anti-BDS legislation that was signed by any state in America.”
Since that time, he said, 23 other states have passed anti-BDS legislation. Rauner said Illinois took the measures one step further, not only barring investing the state’s pension funds in any company that participates in the BDS movement, but also “not contracting or allowing the state government to do any business whatsoever with a company that participates in BDS activities and discrimination – and other states are now following suit.”
He rejected the argument that BDS is a “free speech” issue – as some have maintained – saying the anti-BDS legislation is not against free speech, “it is against racism, bigotry and hatred.” He said anti-Zionism – at its core – is antisemitism.
Rauner said he was “deeply troubled” by rising antisemitism not only on campuses, but also among the general public, and that his administration is “doing everything possible to address that and deal with it aggressively and proactively.”
He said that among the steps he has taken is to enhance Illinois hate crime laws, so that actions like spray painting Jewish graves with a swastika is not just vandalism, but a hate crime that carries a much stiffer penalty. In addition, resource are being provided so that there are more detectives working on those types of cases.
Rauner was accompanied on his trip by a delegation of leading officials from the University of Illinois looking to expand its collaboration with Israeli universities.
“We are seeking to expand the University of Illinois in Illinois, but also to expand its collaboration and its partnerships with great research universities worldwide,” he said. “And my personal number one goal is to expand the collaboration with the universities in Israel.”
The university, whose flagship campus is in Champaign-Urbana, will build a new campus in downtown Chicago that will feature an institute that will be a center for collaboration between the University of Illinois, University of Chicago and Northwestern. Rauner said he hoped Israeli universities would be involved as well.
The Illinois governor said that this project has not run into any objection from the academic community, a community that over the years has included voices calling for boycotts of Israeli universities and academics.
“There is strong enthusiasm, “he said, “we are all here with the university because we want our partnership with Israel to be our primary international relationship.”