We tend to think of Israel as an issue for the U.S. government and thus properly part of politics related to the president and Congress.
For example, many of us eagerly await a decision from the Trump White House regarding the promised move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, due by June 1 under federal law, and I hope questions about Israel are raised if and when congressional candidates Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff debate before their runoff June 20.
But events around Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, served as a reminder that all Israel politics is local.
A prime example was the Israeli Consulate General’s birthday bash for the Jewish state Tuesday, May 2, at the Atlanta History Center. The keynote speaker was Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is running for governor next year.
Cagle wasn’t there because he’s a Republican or because Israel wants you to vote for Cagle in 2018. He was the speaker because, as the head of the Georgia Senate, he has helped smooth the passage of pro-Israel legislation, including the anti-BDS bill enacted last year. Plus, it doesn’t hurt Israel to show friendship and gratitude to someone who could be Georgia’s next governor.
Cagle expressed what sounded like heartfelt support for Israel, rooted in his Christian belief in Genesis’ declaration that people who bless Israel will be blessed. His opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement also sounded sincere and drew applause from the crowd.
If BDS is Israel’s current, lengthy war for survival, the battlefields are places such as the Georgia Capitol and Atlanta City Hall, as well as college campuses. While Israel has suffered a few defeats on the university front, it has dominated among state and local governments.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of Cagle’s speech was his acknowledgment that he has never visited Israel, a failure he said he hopes to remedy soon. It’s rare for a politician in Georgia to rise as high as Cagle without being brought on a mission to Israel. Led by American Jewish Committee, the pro-Israel community is too effective and persistent at identifying and nurturing up-and-comers as friends.
You could see the evidence around the social hall at the History Center. Politicians and activists across the party spectrum were there, including people involved in this fall’s municipal elections in Atlanta, which will replace Kasim Reed, a strong advocate of Israel, in the mayor’s office after eight years.
The man Cagle is running to replace next year, Gov. Nathan Deal, had his moment in the pro-Israel spotlight the night after the Yom HaAtzmaut reception when he received the Tom Glaser Leadership Award from Conexx for his work to strengthen Georgia’s business relationship with Israel. Those efforts include signing last year’s anti-BDS legislation and leading a business mission to Israel, something Reed also did.
While religious belief often provides the knock of opportunity for a relationship with Israel, business is the key to unlock the door. Israel is a valuable trade partner, offers investment opportunities and investment dollars, and creates jobs in Georgia.
For those who, like me, live in Georgia’s 32nd Senate District, it’s worth remembering that when we vote in the runoff Tuesday, May 16, between Democrat Christine Triebsch and Republican Kay Kirkpatrick, we’re choosing a replacement for the man who was the General Assembly’s most active advocate of Israel, Judson Hill, who wrote the anti-BDS bill Cagle supported and Deal signed last year.
Triebsch and Kirkpatrick haven’t made Israel an issue, and I haven’t had a chance to ask them about it. Plenty of other issues provide a basis to choose between them. But whoever wins, I hope her supporters and advisers remind her of the crucial role she can play in supporting one of Georgia’s best friends.