Steve Sheffey
Pro-Israel writer and activist

Warnock and Israel: Setting the Record Straight

Control of the Senate depends on two Georgia Senate races. If Democrats win both seats on January 5, the Senate will be tied 50-50, and Kamala Harris will have the deciding vote. This race is more important than the candidates who are running; the outcome will determine how effectively Joe Biden can govern. The stakes could not be higher, and for the pro-Israel and Jewish communities, Rev. Raphael Warnock is the clear choice over Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

The Jewish vote in Georgia could make the difference in these close races. A cardinal principle of pro-Israel advocacy is that Israel should not be used as a partisan football, because the result is weakening of bipartisan support for Israel.  But true to the GOP playbook, baseless attacks designed to divide the Black and Jewish communities, as well as to split the Jewish community, have been launched against Rev. Warnock

Warnock has forcefully spoken out against what he perceives as injustice against the Palestinians. But his answer is not BDS, which he opposes. His answer is not cutting or conditioning aid to Israel, which he opposes. His answer is a two-state solution, the only path that will ensure Israel’s survival as a Jewish, democratic state. As Warnock himself says, “I know that no singular country’s actions are perfect, including Israel’s – and yet the country is a true friend and our strong, democratic ally in the region.” 

Isn’t that what we want to hear in the progressive movement? Who could be more effective in making the progressive case against BDS, against conditioning aid to Israel, against cutting aid to Israel, against the notion that Israel is an apartheid state, than a person with impeccable progressive credentials, the Senior Pastor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church? Read Warnock’s position paper and statement on Israel and decide for yourself.

But some in our community are, whether they know it or not, allowing racism to cloud their judgment. Yehuda Kurtzer writes that “this practice of attempting to tar Democratic politicians as anti-Israel is common and old; but it is also disproportionately and instinctively done to candidates who are people of color. This is not only inaccurate as relates to these communities; it is not only a racist thing to do; it is also unbelievably self-defeating to those very sectors of the Jewish community who would like to see continued bipartisan support for the State of Israel.”

Warnock has never said anything anti-Semitic, and he never defended any anti-Israel or anti-Semitic comments made by Jeremiah Wright. Warnock has defended Wright’s bluntness in talking about how America has failed the Black community. Given the undeniable injustices inflicted for centuries against Black Americans, it should not be hard to understand Wright’s language or Warnock’s defense of that language.

Dr. King himself would have delivered a sermon entitled “America May Go to Hell” had he not been assassinated. This is the language from Wright that Warnock defended: “Not God bless America, God damn America. That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme. The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African descent.”

Can you blame Wright for saying that? We are commanded 36 times in the Torah to remember that we were oppressed in Egypt and to not oppress others. All of us should be outraged at how America treats Black Americans, and it is the epitome of condescension for us to tell Black Americans how to talk about their experience in America.

Those spreading this nonsense about Warnock should be ashamed. They are trying to divide the Black community from the Jewish community and trying to divide the Jewish community internally. That might be smart politics for Republicans because few Blacks or Jews vote Republican anyway, but politicization of anti-Semitism and the U.S.-Israel relationship is not good for the Jewish community, not good for Israel, and should be condemned by Jews across the political spectrum, especially Jewish organizations who claim the mantle of bipartisanship or nonpartisanship.

Meanwhile, Warnock’s Republican opponent, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, warmly embraced the endorsement of Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the anti-Semitic QAnon supporters who was just elected to Congress.

Unlike Warnock, Loeffler does not understand what it means to be pro-Israel. Last week, Loeffler and three other Republican senators sent a letter to Donald Trump urging him to label goods produced in the West Bank “Made in Israel.” Not even Trump would go that far, but the State Department will now require goods made in Area C of the West Bank to be labeled with Israel as country of origin, which makes no sense because none of the West Bank is in Israel.

Israel has not annexed the West Bank, so goods made in the West Bank are made in the West Bank, not Israel. Loeffler supports inaccurate and misleading labeling. As Abe Silverstein explains, “it is difficult to imagine the State Department regarding products originating in Crimea as being made in Russia, even though Russian control of the territory is the ‘reality’ of the situation today.”

Loeffler’s letter suggests that labeling West Bank goods “Made in Israel” will combat the boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, but the opposite is true. A key argument against BDS is that it is inappropriate and counterproductive to boycott Israel over its policies in the West Bank because it takes two parties, Israel and the Palestinians, not just Israel, to negotiate a two-state solution that would give Palestinians independence. Until then, the disparate treatment of Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank is a temporary situation pending resolution.

But if the West Bank is part of Israel–which is what “Made in Israel” suggests–then the case for BDS becomes stronger. Jews in the West Bank vote in Knesset elections, but not Palestinians in the West Bank. Jews and Arabs in the West Bank have different legal statuses. If the West Bank is part of Israel, that’s unacceptable. The BDS movement seeks to conflate Israel with the West Bank to justify a boycott of all Israeli products. Loeffler’s letter gives BDS a victory it could never achieve on its own and makes a two-state solution harder to achieve.

Loeffler’s letter falsely claims that “prominent Democrats” are working to oppose Israel and support BDS. If they are, they are not doing a good job. The Democratic Party’s 2020 platform opposes “any effort to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.”

President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will “firmly reject the BDS movement — which singles out Israel and too often veers into anti-Semitism — and fight other efforts to delegitimize Israel on the global stage.”

Warnock himself  “strongly opposes the BDS movement and its anti-Semitic underpinnings, including its supporters’ refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.”  Indeed, the vast majority of Democrats in Congress oppose BDS. Last year, the House passed H. Res. 246, which condemned BDS and supported a two-state solution, with support from over 90% of House Democrats.

Rev. Raphael Warnock is better on Israel than Kelly Loeffler, better on anti-Semitism than Kelly Loeffler, and more aligned with Jewish values than Kelly Loeffler. He should be the clear choice of the reality-based Jewish community in this election.

Sign up here for weekly updates from Steve Sheffey. Follow him on Twitter @stevesheffey

About the Author
Steve Sheffey is active in the Chicago-area Jewish and pro-Israel political communities and is the Strategy and Policy Advisor for the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA). He writes and publishes the Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update. The views he expresses on this blog are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organizations he is or has been associated with.
Related Topics
Related Posts