How do you define an ally of the Jews?

Georgia Senate candidate Raphael Warnock has said terrible things about Israel, yet some Jews stand behind him. Is this dispute about friendship or partisanship?

Georgia Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Rev. Raphael Warnock at a 2020 campaign rally. Source: Warnock/Facebook.
Georgia Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Rev. Raphael Warnock at a 2020 campaign rally. Source: Warnock/Facebook.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

How would you characterize someone who compared Israel to apartheid-era South Africa? Or who called Israel’s defense of its border with Gaza against Hamas demonstrations that called for the “right of return” and the Jewish state’s destruction as an act of wanton murder? Would you think it amiss if that same person compared the Palestinian war on Israel’s existence to the Black Lives Matter movement? Would that person’s denunciation of the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem after the fact influence your opinion of him? Would you find it off-putting when he defended these utterances by preemptively declaring himself innocent of anti-Semitism?

And would it influence your opinion if he had also been an ardent defender of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the man best known as Barack Obama’s pastor before he became president, and who denounced Israel as an “apartheid state” and claimed that Jesus was a Palestinian?

The odds are that unless you are an active opponent of Israel and Zionism, you wouldn’t be likely to call such a person a “beloved ally” of the Jewish people. You’d probably be surprised if hundreds of rabbis spoke up to praise him and to dismiss his offensive statements as meaningless, as well as to characterize his critics as motivated by racism rather than concerns about Israel or the safety of the Jewish people.

Or at least you would be unless you understood the stakes in the Georgia Senate runoffs, and that the opinion of most Jews about Rev. Raphael Warnock—the man who is responsible for all of the above comments—would be primarily influenced by their partisan affiliations than their views about Israel or the growing influence of the intersectional left on the Democratic Party.

In the coming weeks, Georgia will be the center of the American political universe. The runoff elections for two U.S. Senate seats that will be held on Jan. 5 will determine control of the Senate. In the two races, incumbent Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler will be facing off against Democratic challengers Joel Ossoff and Warnock.

The stakes involved in the outcome of these two elections couldn’t be higher.

The current tally in the Senate after the dust settled from the Nov. 3 election is that Republicans hold 50 seats and the Democrats 48. That means that if Ossoff, who is Jewish, and Warnock, an African-American clergyman who is the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church—the pulpit once held by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—both win, the tie will be broken by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, giving the Democrats a majority in both Houses of Congress, as well as the White House with Joe Biden poised to become president in January.

Unified control of the government—and specifically, control of the Senate—will potentially enable the Democrats to tick off a number of ideas on the “To Do” list of their grassroots activists. That would include abolishing the filibuster for legislation, expanding the number of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court so as to pack it with liberals, admitting the District of Columbia and maybe even Puerto Rico as states so as to increase the number of Democratic senators and passing radical proposals like the “Green New Deal.”

That means that the outcome of the two Senate races will arguably determine whether or not the U.S. government is fundamentally transformed. By contrast, if either or both of the Republicans win, the GOP will retain its Senate majority, and Americans will once again have divided government. That will mean that both parties will be forced to compromise to accomplish anything or, as is just as if not more likely, the increasingly bitter partisan deadlock will ensure that nothing gets done at all.

As a result, Warnock’s 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, finding troubling sermons and statements about Israel that have become general knowledge. And rather than being of the product of youthful radicalism or the distant past, Warnock’s wrongheaded and offensive views about Israel’s struggles against Palestinian hate are of recent vintage, coming as late as 2018.

That, in turn, has motivated the largely loyal Democratic Georgia Jewish community to speak up in his defense. With Ossoff leading the cheers for his running mate, liberal Jews are spinning Warnock’s stands as merely a disagreement with Israel’s current government.

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 as a supporter of Israel and opponent of BDS, albeit one who is a supporter of a two-state solution.

Is that enough to get Warnock off the hook for the past? As far as his Jewish Democratic friends are concerned, the answer is “yes.”

The truth is, they’d be loath to oppose any African-American Democrat in the wake of the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement this year, let alone one who is as well-connected as Warnock. His stature as King’s successor is such that most Jewish Democrats truly do see him as not only an ally, but as someone whose powerful rhetoric evokes genuine admiration.

But their willingness to overlook his radicalism and his embrace of intersectionality—a movement that is inherently hostile to both Israel and Jews since both are assumed by its adherents to be “white oppressors”—is hypocritical as well as worrisome.

By contrast, the Georgia Jewish community has understandably been quite vocal in its denunciation of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican just elected to the House of Representatives from a rural Georgia district. She had previously voiced support for QAnon conspiracy theories that are linked to anti-Semitism, even if she has been a consistent supporter of Israel. Like Warnock and his views about Israel, Greene has repented of her folly and now distances herself from extremism. But as far as Jewish Democrats are concerned, she is not worthy of the same consideration as Warnock and is therefore still damned as a mouthpiece for radical nut jobs.

In a less partisan era—or if the consequences for the country of the contest between Loeffler and Warnock were not so momentous—perhaps liberal Jews would feel free to at least distance themselves from him, if not to at least state that his views on Israel had made it clear he was no friend of the Jews. But in the current atmosphere in which the divide between Democrats and Republicans is that of a tribal culture war 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 speaks volumes about the dysfunctional nature of American politics in the 21st century, but very little about what it really means to be a friend or an ally of the Jewish people.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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