LA mayor 224.88.
(photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa completed his third tour of the Israel this week, stopping by the rocket-stricken town of Sderot to meet local residents.
"I was inspired by these brave young students, struggling to find normalcy," Villaraigosa said at the Tel Aviv Hilton hotel, hours before his flight back to LA on Tuesday.
"They are struggling to find normalcy in a terrifying and traumatic situation," he added. "It gave me a real-life understanding of just why peace is so important."
Villaraigosa, LA's first Latino mayor, grew up in a tough immigrant neighborhood on the east side of the city, overcoming poverty to graduate from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
As mayor of the city with the largest population of Israeli expatriates in the world (estimated at 200,000) and the second-largest Jewish population in the US, Villaraigosa said Israel and LA shared a special bond.
"We're very similar - we dream and realize those dreams. We're working together on issues like homeland security. This visit expanded solidarity between LA and Israel," he said.
During his visit, Villaraigosa signed an agreement with Ben-Gurion Airport aimed at acquiring Israeli know-how to help defend Los Angeles International Airport from terror attacks.
He also signed an agreement with the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT - part the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya) on behalf of the LA police department. Under the agreement, the ICT will train US homeland security officials.
Villaraigosa was a high-profile supporter of former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton before Barack Obama seized the candidacy. Now, the LA mayor says he is "fully behind Obama," adding that Israelis had nothing to fear from the Democratic candidate.
"I would say to Israelis, look at his speech to the AIPAC conference to get an understanding of his strong support for the State of Israel, and his realization of the threat posed by Iran to peace in the Middle East," Villaraigosa said.
During his visit, Villaraigosa also signed an agreement with Tel Aviv to restore the cities' respective rivers jointly in an environmentally friendly manner.