Georgia Senate Runoff – Raphael Warnock and Israel

Support for Israel MUST be bipartisan. Those of us who support Israel must resist those who try to make it a wedge issue between Democrats and Republicans.

There remains reason for concern, nonetheless, about the drift away from Israel in the Democratic Party. Supporters of bipartisanship cannot turn a blind eye to it, nor can they simply wish it away. While there continue to be strong supporters of Israel in the Democratic Party (such as Steny Hoyer and my own Congressman, Brad Schneider, among many others), a recent trend has found progressive candidates defeating long-term pro-Israel stalwarts in Democratic primaries, and then going on to win election to Congress. Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski, the only member of the Illinois Congressional delegation to vote against the Iran Deal, was defeated in this way. Ditto for Eliot Engel of New York.

Which brings us to the two Georgia runoff elections for the Senate slated for January 5, 2021. One of the candidates, Democrat Raphael Warnock, has a history of negative statements about Israel. Because the two runoff elections will determine control of the Senate, progressive supporters of Warnock, a successor of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, argue that Rev. Warnock is anti-BDS and a supporter of Israel. Indeed, one progressive newsletter, which I’ve received at least three times since the Georgia runoffs were declared, insists:

Warnock opposes anti-Semitism in all forms. He’s critical of some actions of Israel’s government, but when it comes to what to do about it, his answer is a two state solution; he opposes BDS and opposes cutting or conditioning aid to Israel.

The newsletter provides links to Rev. Warnock’s Position Paper and Statement on Israel. But as is true for many who attempt such political spin, the newsletter omits a link to the very item that raised the issues of concern in the first place.

That item is a sermon that Rev. Warnock gave from the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church on May 31, 2018. The full sermon is  about 28 minutes long (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jx9l8ypQ84U&feature=youtu.be&t=1124). The part of the sermon that raises the concerns begins at about the 18 minute mark. Watch it yourself and come to your own conclusions, but mine are below.

In that sermon, less than two years before he  announced his candidacy for the Senate, he describes the prior week as a “tough week,” during which “[t]he administration opened up the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Standing there [were] the president’s family and a few mealy-mouthed evangelical preachers who are responsible for the mess that we found ourselves in, both there and here — misquoting and misinterpreting the Scripture, talking about peace.” He went on to refer to Palestinian riots near the Gaza border as “non-violent protest” and to state: “We saw the government of Israel shoot down unarmed Palestinian sisters and brothers like birds of prey.”

Where did he “see” that? I also wrote in May 2018 about what had occurred at the Gaza border (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/independent-investigation-of-gaza-really/), pointing out that statements like Rev. Warnock’s were wrong and defamatory. As I mentioned – with links to source material:

No one who is not deliberately avoiding the news could possibly be unaware that Hamas had been planning this event for months or that Hamas representatives have publicly admitted that the events were not a peaceful protest and were never intended to be. https://www.timesofisrael.com/hamas-co-founder-admits-we-are-deceiving-the-public-about-peaceful-protests/. Anyone truly seeking to understand the events could not have reasonably missed the statements by Hamas that the goal was take down the border and “tear the hearts out” of Israelis: https://unitedwithisrael.org/watch-hamas-leaders-call-for-violence-proves-gaza-riots-are-no-peaceful-protests/. These, and many more like them, are not hidden – nor is an “independent investigation” needed to locate them; indeed, Hamas trumpets them proudly.

As to the false assertions about Israel’s conduct at the border, which Rev. Warnock described as  shooting down “unarmed” Palestinians “like birds of prey,” I pointed out:

[W]hen 61 people of an estimated 40,000 people are killed, that is just over one-tenth of one percent of those present. And when 50 of those 61 (82%) are admitted by Hamas itself to be Hamas operatives intent on violence within Israel (including at least eight who had already made it through the fence), it requires no “independent investigation” to understand that the IDF was not using live fire “indiscriminately”; rather, it conclusively proves that the IDF’s action were very discriminate indeed.

But now those who see a chance for a Democratic majority in the Senate argue Rev. Warnock is a strong supporter of Israel, who opposes BDS, and (unlike some of his potential Senate colleagues such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders) will not condition aid to Israel on such things as settlement activity in the West Bank. Excuse me if we’ve heard this before.

I was in the room (along with 18,000 others) in 2012 when President Obama told AIPAC: “There should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.” Except that when the “chips were down,” he didn’t. Forget the JCPOA, if one can. While I strongly opposed it, including flying to Washington D.C. to lobby against it the day before Congress voted against it, I can at least credit the good faith of those honestly believed (very wrongly in my view) that it would make Israel and the U.S. safer.

But the same cannot be said of Mr. Obama’s ultimate betrayal of Israel, the refusal in late 2016 to veto U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334. Indeed, it was this terrible failure to “have Israel’s back” that was the impetus for my first Times of Israel OpEd (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/what-kerry-should-have-said/). It was false then, and is false now, that Israeli settlement activity is an impediment in any way to a two-state solution – a solution which I strongly support. Instead, as even Israelis on the left acknowledge, the sole reason that a two-state solution has not already been achieved is repeated and intentional Palestinian rejectionism (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-centrists-view-on-annexation/).

And we heard it from Congresswoman Ilan Omar, who before her first election told her potential constituents that she opposed BDS, only to completely reverse that position and actually introduce pro-BDS legislation after she was elected (https://www.ajwnews.com/omar/).

Will Rev. Warnock be different if he is elected? Read his Position Paper (https://files.constantcontact.com/cd6a813f001/19a15e02-480a-4564-81bc-210b27c96028.pdf) and Statement (https://files.constantcontact.com/cd6a813f001/f91a6a7a-442b-4bee-b998-7f09b305266f.pdf) for yourself – either before or after you watch the video of his Ebenezer sermon, and compare them.

Rev. Warnock’s Position Paper does indeed contain some good pro-Israel language. He agrees with Dr. King that “Israel’s right to exist as a state in security is incontestable.” He “support[s] President Obama’s Memorandum of Understanding” to provide aid to Israel. He supports a two-state solution, achieved through “bilateral negotiations.” He says that he “firmly oppose[s] the global BDS movement, its anti-Semitic overtones and its refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.” He says that he does not believe that Israel is an apartheid state.

All that sounds good and right. But he hedges and is silent on important subjects. Especially in light of his May 2018 sermon, one might therefore question his sincerity. For example, he wants to reverse cuts on aid to Palestinians and to “increase aid to the Palestinian people to benefit mutual security and improve economic conditions.” So, does he support the Taylor Force Act, which bars aid to Palestinians as long as they continue to make “pay to slay” payments? Does he support restoring payments to UNRWA, halted by President Trump due to its support for terrorism, teaching of hate in its schools, and major role in supporting Palestinian rejection of a two-state solution?

Similarly, his Position Paper says that as a “truth-teller who does not shy way from hard conversations” it is important “to express my strong reservations and concerns over settlement expansion and creeping annexation that ultimately impede our hopes for peace,” and that the U.S. “must do everything we can to preserve bargaining power in the peace process.” Note again – he mentions Israeli conduct about settlements and annexation, but nothing about Palestinian conduct and rejectionism. This is not a mere oversight – it is a significant omission that betrays an anti-Israel mindset. And the reference to preserving “bargaining power” sounds awfully similar to those Democrats who would condition aid to Israel, despite his statement to the contrary.

Both Rev. Warnock and I agree on a two-state solution. Both of us want “self-determination for the Palestinian people” so that we can “see a Palestinian state living side by side with a safe and secure Israel.” We both support “the human dignity of the Palestinian people and their position in the world.” The problem with Rev. Warnock’s prescription, however, is that despite his protestations to the contrary (and the spin of progressives), everything in his sermon and everything in his Position Paper and Statement confirm that he believes that it is only Israel’s fault that these goals have not been achieved. He appears to believe that the way to achieve them is to return to the Obama Administration’s false, failed narrative and strategy of pressuring only Israel, without accountability for the Palestinians nor a requirement that the Palestinians make significant concessions too.

Voters in Georgia have many concerns, and support for Israel may or may not be high on the list of the factors that they will use to evaluate their candidates for Senate. But at least on this issue, they should be clear-eyed on where Rev. Warnock stands, and whether pre-election spin on his positions on that issue pushed by those seeking a Senate majority accurately reflect how he will act if elected.

About the Author
David H. Levitt practices intellectual property and commercial litigation law in Chicago, and is a pro-Israel activist.
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