Wednesday, March 26, 2014
by Ed Wittenberg
The tension in Israel struck U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, on his first trip there.
“It was staggering to me how tense things in Israel actually are, how little real religious freedom and liberty the people of Israel have over the very land that they are supposed to be the owners of,” Johnson said in an interview about his recent trip at the Cleveland Jewish News office.
“It’s very concerning what is going on there, and I’m trying to make sure that more of my colleagues in the House of Representatives understand how critically important it is that we stand with our ally, Israel.”
Johnson, a Christian, has represented Ohio District 6, which runs along the southeast side of the state, since 2011. He and U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-West Virginia, visited Israel from Feb. 17 to Feb. 24.
Their trip was sponsored by the Israel Allies Foundation, which works with Congress and parliaments around the world to mobilize political support for Israel based on Judeo-Christian values.
“I was asked to go by the Israel Allies Foundation,” Johnson said. “They have an office in Washington and an office in Israel, and they are trying to make sure that people in Washington understand what the real story is in Israel.
“When given the opportunity to see firsthand what was going on in Israel – especially in light of the ongoing negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority and others that are trying to come to some kind of peace agreement – I wanted to go there myself and see what was going on.”
Johnson, who grew up on family farms in North Carolina, said he has been a student of Israel most of his life.
“Where I was raised in North Carolina, we went to a little two-room church,” he said. “It was in the back of that church that I first heard the stories of the great patriarchs of Israel – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ¬– and (of) the wanderings of the people of Israel and the establishment of the Israeli nation.”
Johnson said he and McKinley landed in Tel Aviv and visited “virtually every corner of the nation.”
“Down on the southern border, adjacent to Gaza, we met with some of the Israel Defense Forces that are there with the Iron Dome,” he said. “It’s amazing to me how little the world knows of what Israel is doing to try and create an atmosphere of peace and negotiation with the Palestinians.”
As part of a small group, including a rabbi, Johnson and McKinley visited the historic Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
“From the time we walked in, a Palestinian Authority representative walked along with our group and monitored what the rabbi was saying and doing,” Johnson said. “Had he or any of the rest of our group pulled out a Bible to try and pray up on the Temple Mount, it would have been a no-no. The Jewish people own the property, but they don’t control the property.”
Johnson said they had a “wonderful” meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Knesset, discussing Israel’s security risks. He said the United States has more work to do “to make sure that we’re standing with Israel.”
“I personally think they’ve given up enough,” he said. “They’ve been squeezed out of their land; the holy sites are being controlled by outsiders. They are surrounded by people who want them to just go away.
“America needs to reassert that we stand firmly with Israel, and if Israel is attacked, it’s like attacking America. We’ve got some education to do to make sure that the American people understand how closely tied we are with Israel and how interlinked our legacies are.”
Johnson, 59, retired as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force after a 26-year military career. From 2006 to 2010, he was chief information officer for Stoneridge, a global manufacturer of electronic components for the transportation industry based in Trumbull County.
Johnson and his wife, LeeAnn, have lived in Marietta since 2006. They have four children.