On 5 January 2021 there will be a special election in Georgia for two senatorial candidates. This election is important, because if both Democrats win – and they are leading in the polls – the US Senate will be equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. The Vice President, who will be Kamala Harris*, will have a tie-breaking vote. The House already has a Democratic majority, so this would give majorities in both houses of Congress to the Democrats. In addition, since the threshold for confirming Supreme Court nominees was changed from 60 to 51 votes in 2017, it would be impossible for Republicans to block Democratic picks for the Court. There is even the possibility that they will “pack” the Court by increasing the number of justices to give it a liberal majority, or admit overwhelmingly Democratic DC or Puerto Rico as states, changing the balance of power in both houses even more.
Naturally, this means that there is a great deal of interest in these contests outside of Georgia. One of the Democrats running is Raphael Warnock. Warnock is the pastor of Dr. Martin Luther King’s church, the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He takes “progressive” positions on social and economic issues. He is strongly supported by the progressive community, including many liberal and progressive Jewish organizations, like the Jewish Democratic Council, and J Street, as well as 169 rabbis and cantors.
But Warnock’s positions on Israel, perhaps predictable for a progressive pastor of a black church, nevertheless would be unfortunate for a member of the Senate. In 2019, he visited Israel on a “pilgrimage” with other black religious leaders from the US and South Africa, and signed a statement setting forth what they learned on the trip.
The statement is nothing but a one-sided endorsement of Palestinian grievances against Israel. After a nod to the Holocaust, it goes into the usual litany of accusations and complaints: Palestinians are violently oppressed, their movements restricted, they are beaten and teargassed, Gaza is a prison, Israel (and not Hamas’ priorities) is responsible for shortages and pollution, Palestinians are walled off and not allowed to use Israeli roads, there are “laws of segregation,” and “militarization reminiscent of the military occupation of Namibia by apartheid South Africa.” The pastors are concerned that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and not “a city of the blessing of all peoples.” They call for “a return of refugees and exiles” (the Palestinians claim there are 13 million altogether). There is much more.
The leaders of the Palestinian Authority have, according to the statement, “made a conscious decision to forgo armed solutions and pray that this will be responded to in kind.” Seriously.
There is not one word about the Second Intifada, when more than 1000 Israelis were killed in exploding buses and restaurants, after Israel made a generous offer for the two-state solution that the pastors say they support. Not one word about the rocket barrages from Gaza, or the stabbings and car rammings in the street, or the killings of children and whole families in their beds in the name of the Palestinian cause. Nothing is said about the PA’s policy of paying murderers and their families, and its refusal to stop doing so. Indeed, there is not one word that could be construed as criticism of the movement that, more than any other, normalized terrorism as a political instrument.
Warnock put his name to this, and while he didn’t write it and perhaps didn’t pay attention to its contents when he signed it, he has not repudiated it. To his credit, he has said that he doesn’t think Israel is an apartheid state and he does not support BDS. He also says he supports unconditional military aid to Israel.
But there are other issues. On numerous occasions he has referred to Jesus as a “Palestinian prophet” or “Palestinian peasant.” This is a particularly vile trope. It is factually absurd: Jesus was of course a Jew, and there was no such place as Palestine until the Romans renamed Judea “Syria Palaestina” to humiliate the Jews after the defeat of their rebellion in 135 CE, long after the death of Jesus. The only other political entity called “Palestine” was created by the British Mandate, supposedly in order to establish a national home for the Jewish people. So why say it? Because it implies that the indigenous people of the Land of Israel, of whom Jesus was one, were not Jews but rather “Palestinians” – which is a national identity applied to a heterogeneous group of Arabic speakers in the mid-1960s.
He also said that he had seen “the government of Israel shoot down unarmed Palestinian sisters and brothers like birds of prey,” referring to Gaza’s “march of return,” in which Hamas terrorists attempted to swarm the border fence and invade the nearby towns and kibbutzim. He compared Binyamin Netanyahu to segregationist George Wallace. And he said that Jeremiah Wright’s famous “God damn America” sermon was “a very fine homily” despite the fact that it accused the US and Israel of “state terrorism.” Even Barack Obama found it necessary to distance himself from that one.
Unfortunately, Warnock’s ignorant views are common in the fundamentalist black community, where the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is mainstream and Louis Farrakhan is admired (despite doctrinal differences). It is probably correct to say that, at least until recently, when he faced pushback from some elements in the Jewish community, that he had only heard, or listened to, one side in this dispute. But if he is to be elected to the US Senate, then his earlier lack of exposure to the truth doesn’t excuse him from putting aside his prejudices and facing reality today.
I am not able to cut similar slack for the progressive rabbis and other members of the Jewish community who insist the objections to Warnock are “baseless” and who suggest that they are motivated by “racial bias” (are you thoroughly sick of this reflexive accusation yet? I am). These rabbis cannot in conscience say that they have never heard the “other side,” and indeed many of them are proud to claim that their anti-Zionism or even misoziony came as an epiphanic conversion from the pro-Israel “dogmas” they learned in religious school.
Although they practice a religion resembling Judaism, they have disconnected themselves from the Jewish people, replacing loyalty to their tribe with self-righteous universalism which seems to accept the destruction of the only Jewish state as a reasonable price to pay to realize the (purported) rights of the Palestinians. They will not be the ones to pay it of course, but they hypocritically claim the right to call for policies hostile to Israel “as Jews.”
I believe that Israel will survive the Biden Administration, just as she survived Obama’s. Israelis can’t vote in Georgia’s elections, and we don’t have the power to change the attitudes of Americans like Raphael Warnock. America is moving, and not in a good direction. We can only prepare for it by reducing our dependence on the US while strengthening our relationships with our new regional allies.
* I know some people think that Trump still has a chance to reverse the election via the courts or the state legislatures. I think this is too unlikely to take seriously, at this point.