There is a kinship that exists between former mayors.
On Wednesday, visiting Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley displayed something most Israelis lack - an admiration for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"I have always found him to be a very forward-looking, hard-working leader who understands the importance of a government that actually functions and works to protect the security of its people," O'Malley, a former mayor of Baltimore, told The Jerusalem Post
O'Malley, whose state exported $44 million in goods and services to Israel in 2006, arrived on Tuesday at the head of a six-day trade mission from Maryland.
He met with Olmert in his Jerusalem office two hours after Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak threatened early elections and a day after US philanthropist Morris Talansky testified that he had given Olmert $150,000 in cash.
In their 30-minute conversation the two leaders spoke about everything but the corruption probe and Olmert's shaky government.
They first met almost 10 years ago when Olmert, then mayor of Jerusalem, visited Baltimore and stopped to speak with O'Malley, the city's then-newly elected mayor.
"There is a certain kinship between men and women who do that job of mayor. It is the same the world over. It is all about crime and grime and making your city a better place for kids," O'Malley said Wednesday.
While in Maryland for the Annapolis conference in November, Olmert had lunch with O'Malley and stressed the importance of passing an Iranian divestment bill through the state's General Assembly.
On Wednesday, O'Malley was able to tell Olmert he had signed that that bill earlier this month. "It is one of the strongest Iranian divestment bills passed in the state so far. He was very appreciative. He brought it up himself at this meeting and thanked us for what we had done," O'Malley told the Post
as he sat in a side room at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.
He was grateful that Olmert took time to meet with him but was not surprised that once in his office, one could not feel the political storm that raged outside.
"He is very personable," said O'Malley. "People who do tough jobs like his develop a kind of rigor and self-discipline that allows them to function and lead even in the midst of the most heated controversies. That is part of what you expect when you elect a national leader, that there will be really good days and really bad days. Regardless of the controversies that swirl around you, you have to focus on the business before you. We enjoyed our time with him. He gave me the impression that he was enjoying his time with us."
When politics did come up, the name that was dropped was US Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. Barack Obama, and not Ehud Barak.
"The prime minister was very interested in American politics. So we talked about the presidential race," O'Malley said.
He himself was an early supporter of Obama's democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, and he has remained loyal to her.
But should Obama finally secure the Democratic Party's nomination, O'Malley said, he would have no problem throwing him his support.
"I have always supported the party's nominee," said O'Malley. "We [the Democratic Party] are all going to be united in the fall."
He was not concerned about the questions many Jews have about whether Obama would support Israel. America would stand behind Israel no matter who won, O'Malley said.
But the focus of O'Malley's trip is developing business ties between Israel and Maryland, particularly in the bio-tech industry. He plans to speak this week at the Israel Biomed 2008 Conference in Tel Aviv.
O'Malley and his delegation want Maryland to be a premier destination for Israeli life science and hi-tech companies.
The ties between Israel and Maryland existed even before the creation of the state. The Exodus
refugee ship set sail from Maryland before picking up concentration camp survivors in Europe to bring them to Mandatory Palestine. Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold was born in Maryland. There is even a street named after her there. And Ashkelon is a sister city with Baltimore.
Today, Maryland has the seventh-largest Jewish community in the United States. Some 30 Israeli companies have offices there, including Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and defense contractors Rafael and Israel Military Industries. O'Malley met with the head of Teva Wednesday, which this winter purchased the Rockeville, Maryland, based CoGenesys biopharmaceutical company and plans to keep it in the state.
O'Malley and the members of his mission told the Post
that a natural link existed and could be expanded between Israel - which exports more healing technology per capita than any other nation - and Maryland, which each year receives $15 billion in funding for medical research.
With that state's hospitals, universities, Homeland Security programs - including those working against bio-terror - and federal institutions such as the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, there were many opportunities to expand links between the state and Israel, O'Malley and his delegation said.
Israel and Maryland, and the United States in general, were also united by shared values such as "the belief in the dignity of every individual and the belief in our own responsibility to repair and heal this world of ours," O'Malley said.