POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Asw. Casagrande Shares Experiences from the Gaza Strip

While many were taking summer vacations, Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-11) was overseas on a fact-finding trip through the global Jewish advocacy group AJC. She sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss the trip and what she learned.

After the AJC extended her the invitation, Casagrande decided the time was right. “I thought right now there is so much going on in the world, and particularly politically there’s such a movement in both the Republican and the Democratic Party toward isolationism, I thought this was a tremendous opportunity as a New Jersey leader to take a look at it,” she said. “They actually take thought leaders from journalism, university presidents, religious leaders and politicians. So I thought it would be a good use of my time in the summer to learn a little bit.”

Casagrande said the press in Israel and the Arab world talk more about China and Russia stepping into leadership roles than the U.S. “One of the most poignant things that [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s international spokesman, a question he asked us was when America steps back on the world stage, you create a vacuum. And you have to think long and hard about who’s stepping into that vacuum,” she said. “Do you want a world where [Vladimir] Putin steps into that vacuum? Is the nuclear Iran of concern to the United States? And so I came back with a real world understanding, I think, of just how important our engagement in that region is.”

The assemblywoman traveled to Palestine and met with the communications director for the peace process. “The one thing that I took away from it is really that whether you’re speaking to an Israeli, whether you’re speaking to an Israeli Arab, an Israeli Jew or a Palestinian, every single person I spoke with wants peace. They’re concerned about how to get there but they all want the same thing,” Casagrande said.

She also traveled to the Gaza Strip, which she said is mainly controlled by Hamas. “The amount of missiles that I saw, it was like a terrorist museum essentially of bombs,” she said.

Casagrande said that fear of violence is part of the everyday lives of those living there. “To hear about how these people live day to day, some of them are afraid to get in the shower because they’re afraid they’re not going to get to the shelter in time. The bus stations look like bomb shelters,” she explained. “And even through that, when you spoke to the people who were in charge, all they said is, ‘I just want peace so that my children don’t have to live like this.'”

Seeing the tech industry in Israel also inspired Casagrande. “Israel’s really done a great job between both government investment in the chief scientist and they also do a much better job that we need to take a lesson from from integrating their universities, their research institutions and their business communities. They’re not silo-ed like they are here in New Jersey,” she said. “And I think if we can really take some lessons from that and as well as the incubator programs that they have, they offer free space for start-ups, free seminars. And I think that that could help a lot with entrepreneurship.”

Taking on international affairs and business opportunities often exceeds the office of the Assembly. When asked if she is considering a run for higher office in Congress or the U.S. Senate, Casagrande said, “I just love learning. Obviously I’m 36, I’ve got a big amount of time ahead of me and who knows where the world will bring me, but I certainly had an interesting summer.”