By David Koonin

Nov. 16 was no ordinary Monday for the Atlanta Jewish community.

America was still reeling from the previous Friday’s terror attacks by Islamic State in Paris, and the Birthright Israel Foundation was wrapping up its national conference with a fundraising event at Buckhead’s St. Regis Hotel, headlined by Bernie Marcus and Birthright Israel co-founder Charles Bronfman.

Nov. 16 also saw a smaller local gathering in which about 25 members of Atlanta’s pro-Israel community experienced some candid one-on-one insight on the state of American foreign policy with two of the federal government’s leading authorities on global matters, Arizona Sen. John McCain and presidential candidate and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, both Republicans.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend this small roundtable, held downtown at the Commerce Club, along with several members of the Atlanta contingent of the Republican Jewish

David Koonin

David Koonin

Coalition.

The senators were unabashedly fired up about our nation’s need to support Israel as its enemies strengthen, as well as to take a leading role in the fight to defeat Islamic State abroad. The two men endorse a proactive strategy as it pertains to foreign involvement in the fight against terrorism.

Both men cautioned the room on the dangers of waiting to ramp up attacks against Islamic State until it’s too late — after an American target has been hit in a 9/11- or Paris-style attack.

Regarding the Paris attacks, McCain said: “This is an act of war, and America must treat this attack on one as an attack on all. It must be a wake-up call for America and our government.”

It came as no surprise to me that both senators vigorously support Israel’s right to defend itself against neighboring enemies, but it was clear that they also denounce any public smear campaign, boycotts, divestment and sanctions that have surfaced against Israel. I was impressed with the credence they both gave to theories that there are organized efforts to marginalize Israel and its supporters and that this behavior cannot be tolerated by our government and allies.

Seeing the obvious friendship between these two longtime colleagues was refreshing.

McCain unconditionally supports Graham and his capabilities in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, a fact that is meaningful because of McCain’s status as a one-time party nominee.

Both senators strongly opposed the president’s recent nuclear deal with Iran. Now that it has passed, Graham educated the room about actions he recommends in response to the controversial agreement, including imposing new sanctions on Iran and increasing scrutiny on the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Local Republican Jewish Coalition leaders Chuck and Bonnie Berk welcome Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Local Republican Jewish Coalition leaders Chuck and Bonnie Berk welcome Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Our senators’ positions are often reduced to soundbites by the 24-hour news networks, but given the adequate time our informal setting offered, it was impressive to hear the depth of their collective knowledge on issues about Israel and the United States.

I came out of the morning feeling enlightened and energized by the senators’ collective support for Israel. It’s hard to find two senior members of the legislative branch with more military and intelligence experience than McCain and Graham, and it was abundantly clear to everyone in the room that our country needs the next president to have the ability to make tough decisions on foreign policy and national security.

America needs experienced leadership during these increasingly trying times. We are fortunate to have McCain and Graham serving in our Senate.