INTERVIEW: Sen. Johnny Isakson Promoting Support for Israel

Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) is running for reelection for a 3rd term this year.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Friday finds the Republican incumbent leading his Democratic challenger, Jim Barksdale, by 21 points among likely voters (55 percent to 34 percent).

If reelected, Isakson promises to travel to Israel for the second time in his public service career. His first trip was in 2007, two years after he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

“My best trip of all the trips I have taken since I’ve been in Congress was the one when I spend a week in Israel,” Isakson told Jewish Insider. “It was a wonderful trip. I learned so much about the country, and I have great appreciation for its heritage and its people.”

His opponent has a history of taking a stand against Israel on numerous occasions, and just recently one of his key backers, Congressman Hank Johnson likened Jewish settlers in the West Bank to “termites.”

In 2010, Barksdale was part of a 28-member delegation to Israel and the Palestinian territories by a Washington-based group, Interfaith Peace-Builders. The group advocates for non-violent activities against occupation. But on the same trip, Barksdale marched in Ramallah to protest Israel’s raid on the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza after facing resistance from dozens of passengers.

In May 2008, Barksdale spoke at The Athens Humans Rights Festival calling for Americans to speak up about the Iraq War and the ‘Palestinian issue.’ “I couldn’t be silent,” he said. “Silence was complicity.”

“Jim Barksdale has some explaining to do,” Georgia Republican Party Chairman John Padgett told Jewish Insider. “From protesting the raid of a Cynthia McKinney and Hamas-backed flotilla in the streets of Ramallah to refusing to condemn Rep. Hank Johnson’s wildly offensive comments about Jewish settlers in the West Bank, it is clear that Jim Barksdale is no friend of Israel. Barksdale’s shady past is troubling and we will do everything in our power to ensure his defeat this fall.”

Isakson refused to attack his opponent for his anti-Israel record. Instead, he opted to tout his own pro-Israel record.

“I was very proud to be the Republican sponsor with Sen Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, of the ‘U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act’ in 2012, which enhanced the cooperation between the two countries already,” Isakson said in an interview. “We spent a lot of time on the Foreign Relations Committee in terms of the authorization of the $3.5 billion in federal aid that goes to Israel. I am always promoting the support of Israel and promoting our commitment to Israel as being in the best interest of our country, as well as the nation of Israel.”

Passing the enhanced security act also led him to become a “big fan” of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “One of my favorite mementos of my career in public life is a personal letter he wrote me after Barbara Boxer and I passed the enhanced cooperation agreement between the U.S. and Israel,” he recalled. “Netanyahu is a great leader of a great country.”

Last week, Isakson signed a congressional letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to come clean about a secret Obama administration-funded campaign to unseat Netanyahu in the 2015 election.

The Republican senator also stated his opposition to any attempt by the UN or any other international organization to impose a settlement on Israel. “Being a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, we are also committed to seeing that the Palestinians never get a standing in the UN,” he said. “I worked very hard to make sure they didn’t get nation status in the UN, and I have been using my influence in Africa, with most African countries to get those votes on our side.”

Isakson also touched on the Iran nuclear deal, expressing hope that the next president would enforce the deal “with the stroke of the pen.”

“It became obvious to me during the debate over the Iran nuclear deal that we were negotiating, before it was signed, that it was a bad deal for the U.S. and certainly a bad deal for Israel,” he said. “Everything that has come out since it was signed, just has underlined that. I did not support the deal, I don’t support it now, and I am glad that it took the form it did because whoever the next president is, he or she is going to have to deal with it with the stroke of the pen.”

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