Kemp, Netanyahu meet to boost Israel-Georgia ‘synergy’

Gov. Brian Kemp and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Israeli leader's Jerusalem office on Sunday, May 21, 2023. (Israel GPO/Kobi Gideon)

Credit: Israel GPO/Kobi Gideon

Credit: Israel GPO/Kobi Gideon

Gov. Brian Kemp and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Israeli leader's Jerusalem office on Sunday, May 21, 2023. (Israel GPO/Kobi Gideon)

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gov. Brian Kemp met for roughly an hour Sunday at the Israeli leader’s Jerusalem office to discuss U.S.-Israeli relations, the threat of a nuclear Iran and economic development opportunities in Georgia.

The meeting was one of several between Kemp and high-level Israeli leaders near the start of the governor’s weeklong mission to Israel, a relatively small trading partner that packs an outsized economic, cultural and religious punch. He also had private sitdowns with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen.

During their closed-door session, Netanyahu discussed his efforts to isolate Iran and normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, which has never formally recognized Israel.

He also questioned Kemp on the status of a bill to combat antisemitism — a sign the stalled measure has attracted the attention of Israel’s senior leaders. Kemp hasn’t taken a public stance on the measure, which passed the Georgia House but didn’t reach a final vote in the Senate.

The lengthy visit with Netanyahu was seen by Georgia officials as a show of respect to Kemp, whose rising political stature after last year’s midterm has given him new clout headed into the 2024 race for president.

The governor has worked to keep his options open ahead of the presidential race, and he said the Israel trip has given him new insight on one of the world’s most complicated and intractable conflicts.

“We spent a lot of time on foreign policy, and it was interesting hearing his perspective,” Kemp said in an interview. “And I was pleased he knew as much about the state of Georgia as he did from an economic perspective.”

Netanyahu, meanwhile, is in the midst of a divisive push to overhaul Israel’s judicial branch and reconfigure tax policy that has triggered sustained large-scale protests and a opened a pivotal debate over the nation’s future.

Gov. Brian Kemp meets with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in the President's Residence in Jerusalem on Sunday, May 21, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

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Credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

During his meeting with Herzog at his compound in Jerusalem, the Israeli president peppered Kemp with questions about the state’s economy. And Cohen promised to send a trade delegation to Atlanta to strengthen ties between the two governments.

Others with Kemp in the private meetings were House Speaker Jon Burns, Senate GOP leader John Kennedy, Republican state Rep. Shaw Blackmon and Harold Reynolds, the chair of the state Board of Regents.

They are among a delegation of roughly two dozen that includes Gulfstream executive Jay Neely; real estate investor Manny Fialkow; Anat Sultan-Dadon, the Israeli Consul General to the Southeast; and Pat Wilson, the head of the state economic development department.

The total cost of the mission isn’t immediately known. State officials say the Georgia economic development department is paying for Kemp and his wife, Marty, while the family is picking up the bill for their children.

The delegation will soon begin visits to a string of Israeli firms that could expand in Georgia, with stops planned at startups in the booming Tel Aviv metropolis, tech firms in the desert hub of Beersheba and small businesses in ancient towns along Israel’s coast.

“There’s certainly a lot of synergy to grow trade and investment in Israel and the state of Georgia,” Kemp said. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount, and I’ve only been here over 24 hours.”