Editor’s Note: Natalie Gochnour, David Eccles School of Business Associate Dean and Deseret News contributor, traveled with a delegation of business and community leaders on a trade mission led by the World Trade Center Utah to Israel and United Arab Emirates (UAE). Here is an insider’s look at what occurred on the trade mission in the second of a six-part series.

The Utah trade delegation to Israel and the United Arab Emirates spent their first full day on the ground visiting holy sites in and around Jerusalem and adjusting to the nine-hour time difference. Visits included the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the old city of Jerusalem.

The real work of the trade mission began on Day 2. Gov. Spencer Cox, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams and Speaker Brad Wilson visited with Israeli president Isaac Herzog and had a separate meeting with Idan Roll, deputy minister of foreign affairs. Both meetings occurred on the 21st anniversary of September 11, a meaningful backdrop for diplomatic discussions in any part of the world.

Learning from shared problems

The discussions with Herzog were both practical and theoretical. The two leaders compared notes on water management and the related shrinking of the Dead Sea and Great Salt Lake. “The commonalities between this country and our state are legion,” said Cox. “We discussed the diminishing water levels of our two inland salty seas. I sought his feedback on what we can learn from Israel’s world-leading water management practices.” 

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On the theoretical side, the leaders discussed the troubling division present in our world. “President Herzog expressed concern about the U.S. and how divided we are,” said Cox when asked about the meeting. “Israel counts on the U.S. to remain a leader among nations. We can’t lead if we can’t get along.”

Leaders from Utah’s Unified Economic Opportunity Commission met in four separate meetings with the Israeli Innovation Authority, Ministry of Transport, Israeli Water Authority and Israel Planning Administration. In each of these meetings commission members asked, “What can Utah learn from the successes and challenges of Israel?” 

Rep. Jefferson Moss led a discussion with the vice president of strategy for the Israel Innovation Authority. The Israeli strategist pointed out that in a region filled with energy assets, Israel’s greatest strength is its brains. He said more than half of Israel’s exports are in the technology sector, a reminder of the importance of innovation to Israel’s successful economy.

Gov. Spencer Cox and first lady Abby Cox talk with President Isaac Herzog of Israel on Sept. 11, 2022. | Natalie Gochnour

Israel’s water conservation success

I found the meeting with the Israeli Water Authority most interesting because of Utah’s megadrought and the very real challenges we face with diminished stream flows. Israel is well known for 70-plus years of sophisticated water engineering, technology, infrastructure and public policy. They have effectively created a water-respecting culture, including teaching water conservation in schools and making water wise practices part of their culture.

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Sen. Scott Sandall summarized the key takeaways in water policy: “We must educate our citizenry, measure every drop and price water correctly.” The president of the Israel Water Authority agreed and emphasized, “Money talks.”

“Israel is a world leader in water management and conservation. We should implement many of their practices in the state of Utah to ensure our water future,” said Joel Ferry, Utah director of natural resources, after meeting with Israeli water officials.

Remembering the Holocaust

For many on the delegation, Day 2 ended with a visit to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Perched on the slopes of the Mount of Remembrance on the edge of Jerusalem, the museum exists so people can see, feel and remember the atrocities of the Holocaust.

The Hall of Remembrance includes the names of over three million Holocaust victims. A children’s memorial commemorates one and a half million Jewish children who perished. First lady Abby Cox and Gov. Cox participated in a very powerful and moving wreath-laying ceremony to honor the victims of the Holocaust. They were joined by Rabbi Avremi Zippel from Chabad Lubavitch of Utah and Rabbi Sam Spector of Salt Lake City’s Congregation Kol Ami synagogue.

I asked Wilson to characterize his feelings about the visit to Yad Vashem. After acknowledging the profound sadness of this historical reality, he told me, “I was struck by how quickly a society can transition from a prosperous and generous society to an immoral and evil society. It’s a chilling reminder to pay attention, to remember and to act.”

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Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah.