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In pain…calling out Senate candidate Rev. Warnock

It hurts to raise a voice of Jewish conscience against Democratic candidate in Georgia, but it is something I must do
Raphael Warnock, a Democratic candidate for the US Senate speaks during a rally, November 3, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/ Brynn Anderson, Pool)
Raphael Warnock, a Democratic candidate for the US Senate speaks during a rally, November 3, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/ Brynn Anderson, Pool)

An update to this post can be found here.

Although I am a New Yorker, Georgia is not foreign to me as a place to raise a voice of moral conscience against politicians who spew anti-Semitism.

When Pat Buchanan was running for president in 1992, I led a group of rabbis in raising a voice against his anti-Semitic and racist statements at his final “America First” rally in Marietta, on the eve of the Georgia primary.

There have been other times when I vigorously protested far right-wing anti-Semitic politicians, such as David Duke in 1991, when he announced his run for presidency.  Or more recently, when we traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, after the horrific white supremacist march in 2017.

But anti-Semitism knows no color. As there are white anti-Semites, so are there black anti-Semites. And they too must be called out.

That’s why we protested Rev. Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam, and his former aide Khalid Abdul Mohammad in the ’90s. And that’s why I feel the need to continue to raise a voice against policies and rhetoric that are hurtful to the Jewish community.

For me, this is not easy. For decades, I have felt a deep connection to the black community. This is why I joined a group to make a solidarity visit to the AME Church following the tragic Charleston shooting in 2015. This is why our synagogue has had a deep connection with the Green Pastors Baptist Church for over 30 years and this is why I felt I was in an elevated, inspirational space when visiting the Atlanta Ebenezer Baptist Church, standing just a few feet from where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached.

Indeed, my deep connection to my black sisters and brothers has made it hard for me to speak out when black community leaders have articulated policies that are inimical to Jewish interests.

I felt this tension when protesting Mayor David Dinkins for his mishandling of the Crown Heights riots in August 1991. And today, I feel this tension in raising a voice against Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Georgian Democratic candidate for US Senate.

My concerns about Reverend Warnock run deep and sadly his attempts to explain these positions fall short:

  • In 2018, he accused Israeli soldiers in one of his sermons of “shoot[ing] down unarmed Palestinian sisters and brothers like birds of prey.” In fact, Israel’s military is one of the most moral, risking its soldiers lives to save thousands of Syrian refugees, and responding to attackers while doing all it can to minimize civilian casualties. This in contrast to the Palestinian Authority’s policy of paying salaries to terrorists who murder Jews.
  • In 2019, he signed onto a statement comparing Israeli control of Judea and Samara to apartheid South Africa. In fact, Palestinians maintain full control of the cities under their rule, as stipulated in the Oslo Accords, and Israeli-Arabs sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have the third-largest party in Israel’s parliament.
  • In that same statement, Warnock joined his colleagues in declaring that Israel’s security fence “walls in Palestinians,” and is “reminiscent of the Berlin wall.” In fact, the partition has dramatically lowered Palestinian terrorist attacks against Jews. And as of March 2020, 87,000 Palestinians cross the fence to Israel regularly for work — hardly a Berlin Wall.
  • In November 2020, he reiterated his opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel, citing their anti-Semitic overtones. Notwithstanding, he strongly supports the right of BDS advocates to espouse their views, including the denial of the Jewish right to self-determination. This position abets the BDS movement. One wonders, would Rev. Warnock, although opposed to racism, still support the right of bigots to spread their vitriol in the halls of Congress?
  • Most recently, in December, he did not raise a voice against Linda Sarsour, who came to Georgia to galvanize Georgian democrats. In fact, Sarsour has supported terrorists, even lauding Rasmeah Odeh, a Palestinian convicted of killing two Hebrew University students in a 1969 supermarket bombing.

And so, while it hurts to raise a voice of Jewish conscience against Rev. Warnock, it is something I must do – an imperative that has remained consistent in my life as a rabbi-activist.

As the sage Hillel once said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me; if I am only for myself, what is my worth?”

And Hillel concludes his teaching: “And if not now, when?”

The author acknowledges the research help of Eitan Fischberger in preparing this op-ed.

About the Author
Avi Weiss is the founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Bronx, N.Y., and founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat rabbinical schools. He is a co-founder of the International Rabbinic Fellowship and longtime Jewish activist for Israel and human rights.
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