The town hall meeting, unique to New England's traditional style of local citizen governance, made its way to Jerusalem when two U.S. Congressmen visited Israel's capital to discuss "local" issues with U.S. citizens recently.
U.S. Congressmen Bill Johnson (R-OH) and David McKinley (R-WV) took part in a historic town hall meeting with American expatriates on Thursday evening, February 20 at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Organized by Yes! Israel, the Israel Allies Foundation, PJTN, and Republicans Abroad Israel, the Congressmen spoke about a variety of issues concerning U.S.-Israel relations and engaged in a lively discourse with audience members in a question-answer session.
"This has been a people's visit," Johnson told Tazpit News Agency. "It's the first time that I've participated in a town hall meeting outside the United States."
"I come as a congressman, but I hope to leave as a friend," he told the audience in his opening remarks.
The congressmen were part of a visit organized by the Yes! Israel Mission, an organization founded five years ago by Israel-based political consultant, Ruthie Lieberman, who has organized a number of missions for Democrats and Republicans to the Jewish state.
The American lawmakers spent a week touring the country, meeting with Israeli government officials and deputy ministers, spending time in Judea and Samaria, visiting Jerusalem's Old City and Beit Wittenberg in the Muslim Quarter where Mark Twain once stayed during his trip to the Mediterranean in 1867.
They also addressed 200 students at Ariel University in Samaria on Tuesday, February 24.
Born in North Carolina, Johnson related that while growing up on a family farm, he would attend a two-room church where he first heard the biblical stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David and Samson. "Those stories made a great impression on me as a child," he said.
"My faith is why I'm here in Israel today," he explained. He stated that the United States knows no greater ally than the nation of Israel. "Like many Christians in America, I'm grateful for the historical role of the Holy Land throughout the ages."
"The interaction between elected representatives and regular folks is something unique," observed McKinley. "We may not have all the answers, but both sides are benefiting from this mutual exchange."
There are 300,000 American citizens living in Israel, according to Abraham Katsman of Republicans Abroad Israel, with 50 percent registered Democrat and 50 percent registered Republican. In the most recent US election, there were votes representing 48 states that were cast from Israel. Israel represents the fifth largest community among an estimated three million to six million Americans who live abroad.
Following the town hall meeting, audience members were animated. "This was an exceptional experience," says Chana Givon, a Jerusalem resident, who made aliyah from California ten years ago. "The dialogue with the congressmen left me feeling hopeful."
Photo Credit: Tazpit News Agency / U.S. Representative David McKinley (R-WV) and U.S. Representative Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) addressing a town hall meeting in Jerusalem.
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