Philanthropist Deidre Pujols speaks at the 2019 ARISE Summit in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion on December 4, 2019. (Yossi Zamir)

‘God Has Given Me a Responsibility’: Baseball Superstar, Christian Businesspeople Converge on Israel (with VIDEO)

In response to BDS, hundreds of pro-Israel Christian executives from dozens of countries seek to boost Israeli economy

Hundreds of Christian businesspeople from around the globe are seeking to develop partnerships with and invest in Israeli startups in a bid to boost the Israeli economy and counter the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.

Flying in from dozens of countries, the executives met with their Israeli counterparts on the heels of the 2019 ARISE Summit, which took place last week in the central city of Rishon Lezion. Organized by ARISE, or the Alliance to Reinforce Israel’s Security and Economy, the event aimed to bridge the gap between Israeli and international companies.

Among those in attendance were baseball superstar and World Series champion Albert Pujols and his wife Deidre Pujols, both of whom are driven philanthropists and strong supporters of Israel. Albert Pujols, a native of the Dominican Republic and hitter for the Los Angeles Angels, is one of the founding partners of ARISE.

“As a baseball player, I believe God has given me a responsibility – not only with my family but also with the community and with others,” Pujols told The Media Line on the sidelines of the conference. “I think that at the end of the day I want to use this platform that he has given us to make an impact.”

It was after his first visit to Israel in 2016 that he began to foster a relationship with the co-founders of ARISE, Calev and Shimon Myers.

“Unfortunately, there is a growing campaign in the west to boycott Israel and this campaign is disastrous not only for Israelis and Palestinians but also for humanity in general because there’s so much innovation for good taking place in Israel on behalf of humanity,” Calev Myers, president and executive chairman of ARISE, related to The Media Line. “But I don’t believe that you can beat BDS by legal or legislative means. We need to work positively to create more business and to create a flow of innovation into the nations.”

From the fields of health care to high-tech, the Israeli startups present at the summit had many interesting products and ideas on show. The vast majority were aimed at providing innovative solutions to some of humanity’s major ongoing problems.

Among them was KitePride, a Tel Aviv-based company that produces bags, wallets and other items made out of repurposed parachutes, kites and wetsuits. In addition to its environmentally conscious business model, the company also provides employment to former victims of human trafficking.

“We have 14,000 men and women right now in Israel that are working in the sex industries or in forced labor,” Matthias Oppliger, CEO of KitePride, related to The Media Line. “In order to solve that issue, which is our passion, we decided to found a company that is able to employ and rehabilitate people.”

KitePride, which works together with several governmental organizations and social workers to find its employees, attended the summit in the hopes of finding new clients. It is currently working with a wholesaler in Switzerland.

Another Israeli company in attendance was Hargol FoodTech, the world’s first commercial grasshopper farm. Hargol produces a variety of products for the food industry that are made out of grasshoppers, which are considered to be both Kosher and Halal.

“Grasshoppers are very healthy for human consumption,” Ben Friedman, co-founder and COO of Hargol, told The Media Line. “It [is made up of] over 70% protein and is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol.”

Friedman noted that the protein powder produced by the company has a neutral taste and is “20 times more sustainable than beef.” In an effort to circumvent the boycott movement and market their product to the wider Arab world, the company is in the midst of building a plant in Jordan together with Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian workers.

On the Christian side of the conference, the businesspeople also came from a wide array of sectors. Andmir Group Canada, for instance, is an international supplier of oilfield equipment that is based in the city of Calgary.

“We believe there are a lot of things that we can do between China, North America and Israel,” Jon Xiao, the managing director of Andmir Group Canada, explained to The Media Line. “Our primary interest is in serving our Christian business owner or CEO in China.”

Business Against BDS

For ARISE, the goal is to reach out to as many executives as possible across the world in order to bolster the Israeli economy. Myers said the alliance has no religious agenda and is in the process of reaching out to all groups of people regardless of religious denomination. According to him, pro-Israel Christian executives are growing increasingly interested in developing lasting business partnerships with their Israeli counterparts, reflecting a shifting dynamic between their community and the Jewish state.

“We are catching a wave of the future relationship between the Christian world internationally and Israel,” Myers affirmed. “When this state was started 71 years ago, we were a third-world country. We had so much poverty and we really needed donations and philanthropy. That’s not the case anymore. Israel is an economic powerhouse today and so the relationship is moving from non-profit to for-profit.”

For their part, Christian leaders are hopeful that business will take the wind out of the sails of the BDS movement and bring Israeli innovation to the world.

“There’s a common history and we also think there’s a common future,” Jan Sturesson, chairman of the International Christian Chamber of Commerce, asserted to The Media Line.That means the time has come to start to collaborate, innovate and do things [together].”

“When it comes to the very well-known process of BDS, the ‘B’ is boycott and we think it should mean bless, when it comes to ‘D’ it’s [divest] and we think it should be direct investment, when it comes to ‘S’ it means sanction, but we think it should be serve Israel,” he said.

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