Kemp’s trade mission to Israel launches at tense time

Credit: Greg Bluestein/AJC

Credit: Greg Bluestein/AJC

JERUSALEM — Gov. Brian Kemp and a delegation of state leaders arrived in Israel on Saturday for a weeklong economic development mission amid domestic turmoil over a proposed judicial overhaul and a fresh cease-fire that ended a bloody conflict with militant groups.

Kemp’s delegation explored the Tower of David and made a solemn pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Over the next few days, the governor plans to meet with senior Israeli officials, visit companies that could expand in Georgia and discuss policy with foreign diplomats.

The trip coincides with Kemp’s efforts to raise his political profile ahead of an unpredictable race for the White House. Although the governor isn’t taking steps to run for president, he aims to stay in the 2024 mix — and burnishing his foreign policy chops could help sharpen his image.

He trekked to Israel at a particularly fraught moment. Just a few days earlier, thousands of Israelis paraded through a flag-festooned Jerusalem to celebrate Israel’s victory in a 1967 war that stirred up hostility from Palestinians who saw the march as a provocation.

AJC Political Insider Greg Bluestein reports from Israel.

Israeli leaders last week agreed to suspend fighting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to end five days of rocket fire, airstrikes and violence between the Israeli military and the Gaza-based militant group that left 35 people dead.

And Israel is rocked by regular protests over a plan backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give the government more control over the nation’s Supreme Court, worrying critics who see the bench as a safeguard against overreach.

The governor’s delegation includes roughly two dozen attendees, including House Speaker Jon Burns, Senate leader John Kennedy and state Rep. Shaw Blackmon, the chair of the Georgia House’s chief tax-writing committee.

It’s one of a handful of international trips by Kemp since he was elected in 2018. Shortly after that victory, he traveled to South Korea on his first economic development mission and to Germany to meet with electric mobility executives. He also journeyed to the Swiss ski resort of Davos in January for an annual conference of global leaders.

Israel is a relatively small trade partner with Georgia, ranking as the state’s 34th largest export market. About 20 Israeli firms have operations in Georgia.

But the country is prized for more than its cultural and religious importance. Israel’s high-tech economy is home to a thriving hub of entrepreneurs, and Kemp’s mission includes visits with several of the nation’s top innovators.