Israel becomes big issue in GA Senate race and — a progressive Democrat folds

Let’s put our Objective Hats on and state that there is news out of Georgia, Israel has become a big issue in one of the Georgia Senate runoff races that take place in January. Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock has a history of comments critical of Israel, and his opponent is trying to make the most of them, and Warnock is walking them back dramatically.

The fat hit the fire earlier this week. Haaretz, Dec. 7:

Republican senator Kelly Loeffler accused her Democratic challenger Rev. Raphael Warnock of being anti-Israel, said he called Israel “an apartheid state” and had previously defended an antisemite, in a charged debate Sunday ahead of the January 5 runoff election in Georgia. 

Adam Horowitz lives in Georgia and reports today, “I saw my first anti-Warnock ad on tv last night that all about Palestine. I can’t find it online, but it was pretty amazing.”

Loeffler has worked the issue in part by calling with other rightwing senators for goods made in illegal Israeli settlements to be labeled as Israeli. “I will ALWAYS stand with Israel — and I’ll always oppose movements and candidates that seek to isolate or damage its economy.”

The fascinating thing about these attacks is that they are Apparently Working. They are either alienating some Georgia voters, or, more important, limiting Gabriel Warnock’s ability to raise money to fund the crucial race.

Yesterday Warnock issued a statement of fulsome support for Israel a bit like a hostage video. He “condemned” the boycott campaign targeting Israel and all but promised never to condition funding to Israel.

“I condemned BDS, its refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. And I support President Obama’s memorandum of understanding [$3.8 billion in aid a year], it’s the largest such commitment made in history. Inasmuch as Israel is… the most important ally in that part of the world, that memo is something I would support. Our aid and support to Israel is something I would advance as a member of the Senate. And there’s no question that Iran cannot get a nuclear weapon. We cannot allow that to happen.”

That statement was posted to the Jewish Democratic Council of America channel yesterday, and late yesterday afernoon Warnock won the endorsement of a hardline Democratic Israel lobby group, Democratic Majority for Israel. DMFI has roots in AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby in the country, and it has a legendary ability to raise money– it raised a reported $2 million earlier this year in a failed effort to support an Israel stalwart in a NY primary race.

Warnock, who is senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached, heralded the endorsement with reference to King:

Thank you to my friends at @DemMaj4Israel. I’m proud to receive your endorsement & I’m grateful for the work you do to support our party’s values. Echoing Dr. King, as senator I’ll stand for Israel’s security & will work to strengthen the alliance between our nations.

Warnock’s comments are startling because he has been critical of Israel in sharp ways in the past. In 2018 he criticized Israel from the pulpit for shooting unarmed protesters at the Gaza fence.

Young Palestinian sisters and brothers, who are struggling for their very lives, struggling for water and struggling for their human dignity, stood up in a non-violent protest, saying, ‘If we’re going to die, we’re going to die struggling.’”

He also signed a 2019 statement likening Israel to “Apartheid South Africa” as an occupier.

But that was a long time ago!

Here is some of the Democratic Majority for Israel endorsement:

He’ll advocate for our Democratic values in the Senate, including civil rights, health care, justice & support for the US-Israel alliance, a two-state solution, the historic MOU [memorandum of understanding giving Israel nearly $4 billion a year] & opposition to BDS.

In 2015, Dr. Warnock personally invited Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. to deliver remarks to his congregation during Sunday services. The Ambassador called the invitation “the greatest honor that has been bestowed upon me since I became Israel’s Ambassador to the United States.”..

Like Dr. King, Warnock has stated unequivocally that ‘Israel’s right to exist as a state in security is incontestable.’ He also believes—as we do—that the U.S. has a role to play as a partner in encouraging talks between Israelis & Palestinians, resulting in a 2-state solution.

Reverend Warnock has rightfully condemned the Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions (BDS) movement for its refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist & its antisemitic overtones.

We celebrate Rev. Warnock’s historic candidacy. If elected, Dr. Warnock will be the first Black U.S. senator from Georgia & the first Black Democrat ever elected by popular vote in the South. We encourage Georgians to get out & VOTE on January 5th

The shift is alarming those both on the left and right.

“Your craven shift from support for human rights to support for apartheid is very disappointing but not surprising,” Scott Roth comments. “Dr. King died 10 months after the 1967 war. Had he lived longer his views on Israel would be far better than yours are right now.”

A Jewish Israel supporter’s attack on the Israel lobby group DMFI on twitter reflects the concern that Warnock will revert to form: “How very disappointing. This candidate is doing exactly what Ilhan Omar did in order to get elected. He’s telling us Jews exactly what he thinks we want to hear, so we’ll vote for him. Then he will flip, as she did. You could have just not endorsed him.”

Putting aside my objective hat– it must be said that DMFI is less than two years old, founded to stop the Israel delegitimization inside the Democratic Party, and it is already a very powerful group. Warnock knows how much money Eliot Engel got thru DMFI… DMFI derives this power from (its AIPAC pedigree and) the power of pro-Israel Jewish donors in the Democratic Party. They are still the ballgame moneywise, like it or not. Ask Joe Biden.

And yes, ask any leftwing Jewish organization– such as IfNotNow– that does not endorse the only logical response to the murder of a 15-year-old Palestinian by Israeli soldiers this week: Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. Alas, BDS is still verboten in the Jewish community. As Mitchell Plitman of Jewish Currents, another progressive org that also does not touch BDS, said at Yivo Institute apropos of the resistance to anti-Zionism in the Jewish community: “There are no democratic [representative] institutions inside the Jewish community. The community is by-and-large run by a donor class, like every other community is run by an oligarchy.” Warnock needs that donor class right now.

h/t Adam Horowitz, Michael Arria, Scott Roth.

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