None of the 18 candidates for the 6th Congressional District seat has served in the Israel Defense Forces, but Democrat Richard Keatley has come closest.
During his seven years as an engineering officer in the U.S. Navy, while his frigate, the USS Donald B. Berry, was in port in Haifa, he served a week on an Israeli navy gunboat rather than do maintenance on the boilers.
“It was really small. I got a bit seasick because it was so small,” the Tucker resident said. But the experience gave him a good understanding of Israel’s vulnerable position, and his time with the Israeli crew of about 15 sailors helped him appreciate the variety of views about the settlements and the conflict with the Palestinians.
“I believe that the two-state solution is … the only viable way to preserve the Jewish state without forcing all of the Palestinians who have been there a long, long time … out in the desert,” Keatley said.
Unlike some of his opponents, he said the United States does have a role as a mediator in trying to bring peace to Israel and the Palestinians, much as Jimmy Carter helped Israel and Egypt reach the Camp David Accords.
That role extends globally for the world’s largest military and economic force, said Keatley, whose Navy service included time with NATO.
“For 70 years the United States has been a stabilizing force,” he said. “No one wants to be the policeman of the world; that’s a negative way to look at it. But our leadership role has helped bring about the spread of democracy in countries where despotism reigned.”
Having not only served overseas in the Navy, but also studied for several years in Naples and Paris, Keatley has a broad view of America’s role. A tendency toward isolationism under President Donald Trump worries him, as does a plan to throw more money at the military just to look strong.
He’s concerned that the United States is turning away vulnerable refugees and labeling them undesirable even though they’re the least likely people to be terrorists. He cited the parallel fellow Democrat Ruth E Levy drew to the fate of Jewish refugees who unsuccessfully fled the Nazis.
“Part of being a leader in the world is doing the right thing and helping people who need help,” Keatley said.
Helping people applies at home as well for the Georgia State professor, who has taught Italian and French here since 2004.
Keatley used a Navy ROTC scholarship to earn an engineering degree from Virginia Tech, then supported himself through independent study and a doctoral program at Yale. He’d like to see a national program to trade debt-free college for service. An engineering student might participate in a summer co-op with public works projects, then work with a public or nonprofit agency for a couple years after college, for example.
In addition to avoiding student debt and accomplishing needed public service, the program would ensure that students are learning skills that align with employment opportunities.
In addition, “national service helps the idea of national identity,” Keatley said. “People become more American by being exposed to people from different places.”
If elected, he will have one staffer assigned to do nothing but handle problems and concerns brought by military veterans, who too often run into stall tactics from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Keatley was planning to run against Tom Price in 2018 after being frustrated by the feeble Democratic opposition in 2014 and 2016. When Price resigned to become health and human services secretary, those plans were accelerated.
He thought the jungle primary of all 18 candidates on one ballot would benefit an outsider like himself, but he got a lesson in party politics when Democratic institutions and leaders lined up behind Jon Ossoff, who has raised $8.3 million so far.
Most observers assume Ossoff will make the likely runoff between the top two vote-getters, but that second-place person could be a Republican, a Democrat or an independent.
“I hope it’s me and Jon,” Keatley said. “Then we’ll see if they want a young whippersnapper, or they want a veteran.”