Love from Mississippi

Phil Bryant, governor of Mississippi, speaks about the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR)
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR)
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican who passionately supports Israel, was the keynote speaker at the Third Jerusalem Leaders Summit at the Inbal Hotel on November 18, nine days before the US Senate runoff in his state. I interviewed Bryant before he was presented with The Distinguished Leadership Award for “strengthening the Israel-US strategic partnership” by summit co-founders Joel Anand Samy and Natasha Srdoc, and board member Beth Saunders, whose husband, Sanford Saunders – a founding member and rule-of-law expert – died last year.
Governor, this is your fourth trip to Israel in four years, leading a trade delegation. What motivates your support for, and dare I say, love of Israel?
I think it is love, and also there’s a desire on our part to continue to work with one of the most successful nations in the world. What you’re able to do here I take back to Mississippi. Your innovating is taking a problem and getting it solved, such as the Iron Dome defense system (which Raytheon helped develop in Mississippi). We in Mississippi have to learn from that, and show the nation that what they thought was a sleepy southern state can do remarkable things. That’s what’s taken place here in Israel, and that’s what we’re hoping to emulate.
Let’s talk about the US midterm results. Does President Trump’s decision to campaign in Mississippi before the Senate runoff on November 27 signal how close a race it is?
We never take anything for granted. This is the last Senate race, pitting Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, the first woman to serve in Congress from the state of Mississippi, against our friends in the Democratic Party (who back former Congressman Mike Espy). The president wanted to make sure we win this one, and he is well liked in Mississippi. What happened in the midterms is a normal thing. The people of the US like to balance things. Republicans were projected to lose something like 60 or 70 seats in the House, and at the end of the day, it was 35 or 36. I think the president, through his sheer determination in campaigning for candidates all over the US, was able to reduce that number by about half, and increase our majority in the Senate.
Despite Trump’s support for Israel and his Jewish family members, we have witnessed a spike in antisemitism in the US, peaking in the attack in Pittsburgh. How do you explain that?
I think there’s a problem on both extremes of the political spectrum. On the far right, it may be related to immigration, and seeing immigration grow across the US and Europe gave that sliver of disturbed individuals an issue to gather around. On the far left, you see another disturbing trend. It seems that they’re more concerned with the rights of radical Muslims than of Israel. So if both extremes are conveying the message that it’s OK to threaten Jews, then you’re going to see that happen. What I’m trying to do by being here is say that it is unacceptable. We won’t stand for it. It won’t be tolerated any more.
The Jewish community in Mississippi has a rich history and yet its numbers are dwindling.
It does. We trace it back to the 1800s, and Jewish immigration thrived particularly in the Mississippi Delta, where I’m from, and the Jackson area. But we do see an ageing population today. A lot of the children are moving away. I’m not sure that this is just in the Jewish population. One of my children lives in Austin, Texas. They seem to like the bright lights of the big cities, and so we are losing some of the younger generation.