BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (CBSNewYork / AP) - Gov. Chris Christie gave his recent trip to Israel a grade of B+, telling a group of New Jersey Jews on Wednesday that he returned home with a better understanding of the unique security challenges facing the volatile region and a conviction that Israel must remain in control of Jerusalem to ensure its stability.
WCBS 880's Levon Putney On The Story
Dr. Aref Assaf, president of the American Arab Forum, is critical of the governor's trip.
"We had wished very much that he had made contacts with Palestinians," he told WCBS 880 reporter Levon Puntey.
He said Christie had a one-sided view, especially since the governor said Israel should control the Holy Land.
"Israel has prevented not only Palestinian Muslims, but also Christians from being able to visit Jerusalem and visit their religious site there. This is something I'm sure our esteemed governor was not told of his Israeli handlers," Assaf said.
Assaf didn't go so far as to insist that Christie make another oversees trip, but asked that the governor meet with local Palestinians.
Christie appeared at the Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center in Bridgewater on Wednesday, where he summed up the trip and answered questions about the excursion. He's planning to give similar wrap-ups in other parts of the state over the next few weeks.
New Jersey has the second-highest population of Jewish residents in the United States. Former governors have also visited Israel, including Jon Corzine, Tom Kean and Christie Whitman.
Most of Christie's Israel trip was funded privately by a Republican Jewish lobbying group in Washington and an economic development group in New Jersey. Seven members of Christie's family went along, as did a handful of government staff, state troopers, and 13 business and religious leaders. The Christies then spent three days in Jordan before returning to New Jersey on Sunday.
Christie said Wednesday he hadn't decided whether his office would release a detailed accounting of the costs of the trip and who paid for what. Taxpayers are on the hook for costs associated with Christie's security detail. The administration hasn't released those costs, and didn't reply to an email seeking information about them Wednesday.
The governor used the word "extraordinary'' several times to describe the visit during Holy Week to the birthplace of his Christian faith. He said the trip was memorable for both him and his children, and not an experience anyone in the Christie clan is likely to forget.
"We did not waste a second of our time in Israel,'' Christie said, noting that he was meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an hour after landing from an all-night flight.
Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, also had a private dinner meeting with Netanyahu and his wife at their home where the two couples spent most of the evening talking about their children. The governor said Netanyahu is concerned about raising children in Israel. They also talked about the special challenges of bringing up kids while being in the public eye.
The New Jersey delegation discussed business opportunities in New Jersey with Teva Pharmaceuticals and an electric carmaker, and a deal with the drug maker appears imminent.
Christie and Teva's CEO signed a letter of cooperation during the governor's trip, then on Tuesday the state's Economic Development Authority announced that Teva would be eligible for $15 million in tax credits if it builds a research and development facility in Florham Park and creates 215 jobs.
Christie said an announcement could come within the next two months.
Mark Levinson, who chairs New Jersey's Israel Commission and was on the trip, described it as "productive, exhilarating and a lot of fun.'' He said the governor was ``direct and candid'' in business meetings, giving Israeli executives the unmistakable impression that New Jersey is a state they can partner with.
The Washington-based Republican Jewish Coalition and the New Jersey-based Choose NJ shouldered most of the costs, including for a private plane.
Matt Brooks, the coalition's executive director, said the group would defer to the governor's office on whether to release the costs of the trip. The coalition has sponsored similar trips for other top Republicans including then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Choose NJ, co-founded by the Christie administration and funded by corporate donations, didn't return a call seeking funding details.
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