In 2017, the OKlahoma Israel Exchange celebrated 25 years of warm, fruitful friendship between Oklahoma and Israel. In a poignant evening, the Israeli Philharmonic performed with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and dazzled the sold-out audience. For the first time, four governors, three first ladies, and one first gentleman stood together on the stage of the civic center. The evening was a momentous occasion for Oklahoma and a triumphant show of support for OKIE.
In August 1992, the Jewish Federations at both ends of the Turner Turnpike collaborated on a groundbreaking mission to Israel. Led by Governor David and First Lady Rhonda Walters, an entourage of over 20 participants from Oklahoma City and Tulsa covered Israel in several days, meeting with officials at the highest levels of government and visiting historical sites of Christian and Jewish importance. Later that year, Governor Walters and the Israeli Consul General signed a joint declaration drawing on the rich social fabric and pioneering spirit of both states, and the concept of the OKlahoma Israel Exchange (OKIE) was born.
After the Walters mission, an on-going educational exchange between Oklahoma City University School of Music and HED Music School/Ono College in Tel Aviv was launched. Israeli students trekked to OKC to complete their bachelor’s degrees and many remained to pursue graduate work in the field. Today, this melodic exchange falls under the OKIE umbrella. After current president Robert Henry and his wife Jan travelled to OKIE to Israel, plans are now underway for a renaissance of the program. President-elect Martha Burger intends to harness this momentum and push the program forward.
In 1996, not long after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, Governor Frank and First Lady Cathy Keating picked up the mantle and led a 2nd official delegation to Israel.
Not only do Oklahoma and Israel share similar values - the two states have a common bond, prevailing over tragedy and always demonstrating resilience and strength.
In an effort to create harmony and spread goodwill, OKIE drew upon the universal language of music and imported popular musical talent for colorful programs--from dance to jazz to rock to classical--highlighting Israel’s rich culture. Concerts impressed audiences from the Panhandle to the Red River, most notably by groups like Shesh Besh, Idan Rickel, and the Israeli Drummers' Circle.
During the 2nd Intifada, Governor Brad and First Lady Kim Henry and a large contingency in a show of determination, traveled to Israel in the fall of 2003. The gratitude of the Israelis for this expression of support was apparent at every turn. Upon returning home, OKIE began to tap into the Israeli talent pool and promote joint Oklahoma-based ventures. OKIE recently joined forces with welaunch to open doors, cultivate opportunities, and broker deals of benefit for both states.
Governor Mary Fallin, then Lt. Governor, demonstrated her staunch support for the state of Israel as well as the continued warm and productive partnership between the two states.
Before the end of her second term, OKIE initiated the Youth Ambassador Student Exchange program, coordinated by the America-Israel Friendship League. Each year, dozens of teens from across Oklahoma participate in life-changing trips to Israel.
Oklahoma State University President Burns and First Cowgirl Ann Hargis made their first trip to Israel over a decade ago. Since their journey with OKIE, they have encouraged faculty from the university’s College of Agricultural Sciences to participate in Israel’s agritech conference and develop collaborative endeavors. The Hargises also actively promote related programming throughout the university. In addition to its work with OSU, OKIE has extended its ongoing relationship with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture beyond funding in a variety of ways — providing keynote speakers for the department’s yearly conferences, facilitating the travel of Israeli agricultural consultants to visit farmers throughout the state to discuss methods of improving crop yields, and demonstrating the latest agritech innovations and cutting edge technologies.
The US Israel relationship is based on shared values and common interests. American foreign policy continues to reflect the unshakable commitment to our steadfast ally and trusted friend.
Israel and the United States each are driven by a sense of responsibility to meet global needs through cutting-edge technology, innovative solutions, and collaborative endeavors.
Today's interdependent global economy requires that trade relationships be developed at the national as well as state level. Though at least 22 U.S. states have cooperative arrangements with Israel, Oklahoma can boast one of the most dynamic and fruitful partnerships. OKIE furthers partnerships through multi-layered exchange programs.
Exports to Israel increased nearly 10% from 2016 to 2017. In 2017, Israel ranked 16th among Oklahoma trade partners. That same year, the Oklahoma economy realized a total of $61 million in trade from Israel.
Israel, known as the “Start-Up Nation”, is certainly a place where expanding potential business and formidable trade partners can be found. Israel's robust economy features more than 3000 high-tech companies and start-ups, second only to the U.S. Today, OKIE is charged with matching Israeli high-tech to forward-thinking Oklahoma businesses particularly in the areas of agriculture, water, and defense/aerospace.
The possibilities truly are limitless. In the words of statesman Theodore Herzl, “If you will it, it is no dream.”