(November 12, 2020 / JNS) While Joe Biden has been projected as the next president of the United States, control of the U.S. Senate is almost just as important due to the Democrats hinting at, if they win the majority of seats in the chamber over the Republican Party, changes such as ending the legislative filibuster and packing the U.S. Supreme Court.
As it pertains to issues relevant to the Jewish and pro-Israel community, GOP control of the Senate would block nominees to the executive branch, including Cabinet members, who may be hostile towards Israel, prevent conditional U.S. assistance to Israel and pass amendments blocking possible moves that would be detrimental to the Jewish state.
Control of the Senate will come down to two runoffs in Georgia on Jan. 5 between incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, and incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock. While many say the Republicans are expected to keep its Senate majority, it’s not over until the runoff votes have been counted.
With the GOP currently holding a 50-48 Senate majority, Democrats winning both Georgia seats would give them the majority due to U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who will serve as the president of the Senate, being one more Democrat for any tie-breaking votes.
Note: Jewish population figures are from the American Jewish Year Book 2019. Reporting percentages are based on the Associated Press.
Jewish population: 108,075 (1.48 percent of state population)
Result: Astronaut and Democrat Mark Kelly defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Martha McSally, 51.2 percent to 48.8 percent, respectively.
Kelly is expected to be sworn in by the end of the month and finish the final two years of the late Sen. John McCain’s term. McSally was appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey in December 2018 after she lost a regular election the previous month to succeed retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (Jon Kyl, who previously served in the Senate between 1995 and 2013, was appointed by Ducey to succeed McCain after McCain died in August 2018; Kyl resigned due to health reasons at the end of 2018).
McSally supported U.S. President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel agenda. Kelly told Jewish Insider in a recent interview that he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and called the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal “a rather poor decision.” He did say that Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was eliminated in a U.S. airstrike in January, “was a bad actor in the region for a long period of time” and that “it’s good that he’s not in the job anymore.”
Jewish population: 98,400 (1.7 percent of state population)
Result: Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, won 53.4 percent of the vote over incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who got 44.4 percent.
Gardner was supportive of the president’s pro-Israel agenda, including eliminating Soleimani. In a statement, Hickenlooper said, “Soleimani was a terrorist responsible for the death of U.S. service members and innocent civilians. We shed no tears for him. In the aftermath of this strike, we need to understand the full rationale for this action and see a clear strategy to keep American troops and diplomats safe in the face of likely Iranian retaliation and further regional destabilization.”
In a statement to Jewish Insider, Hickenlooper said that, regarding Israel possibly applying sovereignty to the West Bank, “The two-state solution remains the best way to achieve long term peace and stability for both Israelis and Palestinians. I oppose unilateral actions that move us away from this goal, including annexation of the West Bank. In the Senate, I will continue to advocate for advancing Israel’s security and stability and work with J Street towards achieving lasting peace in the region.”
Jewish population: 128,720 (1.21 percent of state population)
Result: A Jan. 5 runoff in Georgia between incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, who is Jewish, appears likely as neither candidate has reached the 50 percent voter threshold required to win.
With 99 percent of votes reported, Perdue received 49.7 percent of the vote, while Ossoff got 47.9 percent.
In accordance with Georgia electoral law, if no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two finishers will be held in January.
At a mid-October rally for Trump, Perdue seemed to poke fun of Democratic vice-presidential running mate and his colleague in the U.S. Senate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, calling her “KAH-mah-la, Kah-MAH-la, Kamala-mala-mala. I don’t know, whatever.” Ossoff and others criticized the comment.
Perdue also came under fire in July for a digital advertisement featuring a picture of Ossoff with an enlarged nose “even as other parts of his face stayed the same size and proportions,” according to The Forward, which first reported the ad.
The black-and-white ad solicited donations for Perdue’s campaign and also included a picture of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is also Jewish, and a caption, “Democrats are trying to buy Georgia.”
The apparently Photoshopped ad appeared to invoke the anti-Semitic tropes of Jews having long noses and that they control politics.
A Perdue campaign spokesperson told The Forward that the campaign ad was inadvertent and was removed, though Ossoff tweeted that the explanation didn’t pass muster.
Perdue, who co-sponsored an anti-BDS law in 2017, has supported Trump’s pro-Israel agenda, while Ossoff has supported the Iran nuclear deal and, in a statement to Jewish Insider, warned that Israel applying sovereignty to the West Bank would undermine “efforts to achieve a two-state solution. A sustainable and humane resolution of conflict can only be achieved by diplomacy.”
A second runoff will take place on Jan. 5 between incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat in the special election to serve the remaining two years of the term of Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).
Warnock received 32.9 percent of the vote while Loeffler got 25.9 percent, knocking off Republicans, including Rep. Doug Collins, and eight Democrats, including Matt Lieberman, a son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
Loeffler has supported Trump’s pro-Israel agenda, while Warnock, pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, has defended anti-Semitic comments made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, gave a May 2018 sermon in which he accused Israel of shooting non-violent Palestinian protesters and signed onto an anti-Israel statement last year.
This month, Warnock released an editorial by the Democrat titled “I Stand With Israel.”
Despite signing onto a statement that compared Israeli control of the West Bank to “apartheid South Africa,” in the editorial, Warnock wrote, “Claims that I believe Israel is an apartheid state are patently false—I do not believe that.”
“I understand and recognize Israel’s unique historical importance as the greatest proponent of democracy in the Middle East and America’s most important partner in the region. I understand the many threats that face Israel, and as a U.S. senator, I will work to ensure Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon,” he wrote.
He called the BDS movement against Israel as “anti-Semitic” and a “refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.”
And he expressed opposition to conditioning U.S. assistance to Israel.
Jewish population: 87,905 (0.9 percent of state population)
Result: Incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Peters held off a strong challenger in Republican businessman and U.S. Army veteran John James, 49.8 percent to 48.3 percent, respectively.
Peters backed the Combating BDS Act and the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, both in 2017, and voted last year in favor of a pro-Israel legislative package that included an anti-BDS measure. He also supported the Iran nuclear deal. And while he said that Soleimani was “a bad actor” and “basically a terrorist” who was “responsible for an awful lot of mayhem in the Middle East,” he expressed concern over the “long-term strategy” of the Trump administration, especially as it pertains to protecting U.S. troops abroad and the U.S. homeland.
Jewish population: 45,935 (0.44 percent of state population)
Result: Incumbent Republican Thom Tillis defeated Democrat and former state senator Cal Cunningham, 48.7 percent to 47 percent, respectively.
Tillis has supported Trump’s pro-Israel agenda, while Cunningham expressed support for re-entering the Iran nuclear deal and has stated that Israel applying sovereignty to the West Bank would “deal a significant blow to our shared goal of a two-state solution, and could damage long-standing relationships that are key to security.”
“Unilateral action, by any party, could set the region back and foreclose the opportunity to achieve the long-term peace that is key to the prosperity, security and freedom of Israelis and Palestinians,” said Cunningham.
Tillis told JNS last month that Cunningham “would be detrimental for the Jewish and pro-Israel community,” as he would be a “rubber stamp for far-left policies” that include rejoining the Iran deal and will “work with anti-Israel Democrats who have voted against anti-BDS legislation.”
He pledged that, if re-elected, “I will continue to be a champion for the Jewish and pro-Israel community because their success is intertwined with the success of democracy worldwide.”
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