When Rev. Raphael Warnock compared Israel to apartheid-era South Africa in a sermon, he probably wasn’t looking ahead to a run for the U.S. Senate. Nor was he thinking about how best to mobilize the support of leftist Jewish groups when he compared the Palestinian war on Israel’s existence to the Black Lives Matter movement, denounced the moving of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Likewise, defending Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s pastor before he became president, came naturally to Warnock since he shares the radical Chicago clergyman’s views on America and Israel, as well as in believing Jesus to be a “Palestinian” rather than a Jew. Like Wright, Warnock has also defended himself by preemptively declaring himself innocent of antisemitism.
Like so much of what Warnock said before beginning his effort to unseat Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., including his defense of socialism and attacks on the U.S. military and police, Democrats are scrambling to toss the Democrat’s public comments about Israel down the memory hole. No aspect of his party’s determination to circle the wagons around the radical Atlanta pastor’s record, however, is as disingenuous as that of Jewish Democrats to wish away his past.
Much like the way leftist groups like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Anti-Defamation League have sought to grant absolution to a veteran race-baiter like Al Sharpton, many of the same people are now working even harder to pretend Warnock is a friend of the Jewish community. Hundreds of rabbis have rallied around Warnock, praising him as an ally while dismissing his past offensive statements as meaningless. Meanwhile, they seek to turn the tables on his Jewish critics by characterizing them as motivated by racism rather than concerns about Israel or the safety of Jewish people.
In doing so, Jewish leftists are demonstrating that they understand the importance of Warnock’s success to the Democratic Party in its hopes of obtaining unfettered control of the U.S. government. So if Warnock has to receive a political makeover by his Jewish friends to be transformed from a leftist enemy of Israel into what some liberal rabbis are calling a “beloved ally” of the Jewish community, then that is what they are prepared to do.
Warnock’s Views Matter
With the two Senate runoffs scheduled for Jan. 5, Georgia has become the center of the national political universe. Should Warnock — an African-American clergyman who is the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, the pulpit once held by Martin Luther King Jr. — defeat Loeffler, and Jon Ossoff best Sen. David Perdue, a tie-breaking vote from Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will give the Democrats control of the Senate after the inauguration.
Unified control of the government will enable Democrats to tick off a number of items on their grassroots activists’ to-do list. That would include abolishing the filibuster for legislation, packing the Supreme Court, admitting the District of Columbia and maybe even Puerto Rico as states to increase the number of Democrat senators, and passing radical proposals such as the Green New Deal.
That means the outcome of the two Senate races will arguably determine whether the U.S. government is fundamentally transformed. As a result, Warnock’s past and his bona fides as a friend of the Jews are of more than local concern.
That prompted Republicans to take a deep dive into Warnock’s record, surfacing his troubling sermons and statements about Israel. Rather than being the product of youthful radicalism, Warnock’s wrongheaded and offensive views about Israel’s struggles against Palestinian hate are of recent vintage, coming as late as 2018.
Many Jewish Democrats Embrace Warnock
That, in turn, has motivated the largely loyally Democratic Georgia Jewish community to speak up in his defense. Only the minority of American Jews who are either politically conservative or religiously Orthodox treat Israel’s security as a litmus test. The majority of the community treats leftist stands on domestic issues, which they term “social justice,” as their religious imperative.
With Ossoff, who is himself a Jewish left-winger, leading the cheers for Warnock, liberal Jews are spinning Warnock’s stands as merely a disagreement with Israel’s current government. That line of defense is patently false.
Warnock’s 2018 sermon in which he defended Hamas rioters who sought to breach Israel’s border with Gaza in the name of the “right of return” — which is indistinguishable from the terrorist group’s ongoing campaign to wipe the one Jewish state on the planet off the map — was not a question of a few off-hand remarks. He went into detail, claiming the violent attack on the border was comparable to U.S. civil rights demonstrations, and falsely asserted that Israeli soldiers defending their country were committing indiscriminate murder.
Yet demonstrating that he has already completed the journey from ideological clergyman to politician, Warnock has distanced himself from everything he previously said about these subjects and rebranded himself a supporter of Israel and opponent of the movement to boycott the Jewish state. Is that enough to get Warnock off the hook for his past? Despite Loeffler hitting hard and accurately at his record on Jewish issues in their Sunday debate, as far as his Jewish Democratic friends are concerned, the answer is “yes.”
Two days later, the Jewish Democratic Council of America hosted a webinar devoted to obfuscating Warnock’s past. In it, Warnock spoke of his opposition to antisemitism. As Republicans have pointed out, however, although Warnock has been a vocal critic of Israel, he was silent when Wright engaged in antisemitism. The same is true of his political mentor, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., who called Jews “termites.”
More Power to Democrats
The truth is, they’d be loath to oppose any African-American Democrat in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement’s rise this year, let alone one who is as well connected as Warnock. His stature as King’s successor at Ebenezer Baptist is such that most Jewish Democrats truly do see him as not only an ally but someone whose powerful rhetoric evokes genuine admiration. Their willingness to overlook his radicalism and embrace of intersectionality — a movement inherently hostile to Jews since they are assumed by its adherents to be “white oppressors” — is hypocritical and worrisome.
Warnock’s defenders have responded to GOP attacks by trying to tie Loeffler to the newly elected Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has been linked to QAnon conspiracy theories. Although Greene has never made any antisemitic statements and is a supporter of Israel, she has since renounced the group. As far as Jewish Democrats are concerned, however, she is not worthy of the same consideration as Warnock and is still damned as a mouthpiece for radical nutjobs.
In the current partisan atmosphere in which all opponents are labeled as evil, and all allies, no matter how unsavory, must be embraced, Jewish Democrats will stick to Warnock no matter what he says or does. That was made clear by the decision of the Democratic Majority for Israel Super PAC— a group created last year specifically to counter the impact of far-left groups and which has boasted of its efforts to derail Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign — endorsed Warnock.
Even these supposed centrists whose entire purpose is to defend Israel within the Democratic Party are observing party discipline on this race. Even a group Warnock offended is prepared to embrace him so long as it means more power for the Democratic Party they support.