Lior Haiat, consul general of Israel, and Gov. Phil Bryant talk to reporters Thursday in Meridian.

Mississippi leaders touted the importance of the nation’s relationship with Israel Thursday as the state hosted a senior Israeli diplomat.

Lior Haiat, consul general of Israel serving Mississippi, Florida, Alabama and Puerto Rico, traveled to Meridian Thursday for an event hosted by the America-Israel Friendship League.

The purpose of the event, leaders said, was to celebrate the relationship between Mississippi and Israel and encourage further business partnerships between the two states.

“The economic relationship between Israel and Mississippi is huge,” Haiat said. “A lot of the economy of Israel is built on small startup companies, and they need someone to represent them in the United States.”

“I think Mississippi is perfect for them,” he continued. “That’s why we’re trying, as a consulate, to suggest to Israeli companies to come to Mississippi. Once you come here, you’ll fall in love with it.”

Gov. Phil Bryant, Attorney General Jim Hood, House Speaker Pro-Tempore Greg Snowden, and Meridian Mayor Percy Bland spoke at the event, along with the acting director of the friendship league.

Bryant highlighted existing companies that are either owned by Israelis or export goods to the country. Missile defense radar technology is manufactured at Raytheon in Forest, unmanned aerial systems are manufactured by Stark Aerospace in Columbus, and topical lotions and other cosmetics are manufactured by Israel company Emilia Resources in DeKalb.

Bryant said the state exported $400 million of products to Israel last year.

“We think we can help grow that number,” Bryant said. “I think you’ll see businesses from Israel that want to establish an office, warehouse or manufacturing in the United States come to Mississippi.”

About 75 people attended the event, held at the Mississippi State University Riley Center in downtown Meridian. Hood and Snowden, both alumni of the friendship league’s delegation to Israel program, co-hosted the event.

In his remarks, Hood highlighted the roles that Jewish people played in the civil rights movement. In 2005, Hood successfully prosecuted the man who orchestrated the murders of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County in 1964.

“In the sixties, there were people getting killed,” Hood said. “What I heard from history was that they were down here causing trouble. … But they were doing God’s work here in our state. They were helping us.”

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.