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January 5, 2021 4:42 am

Addressing Raphael Warnock and Antisemitism

avatar by Avi Weiss

Opinion

Democratic US Senate candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock speaks during an Election Night event in Atlanta, Georgia, Nov. 3, 2020. Photo: Jessica McGowan / Pool via Reuters / File.

Although I’m a New Yorker, Georgia is not foreign to me as a place to raise a voice of moral conscience against politicians who have attacked Israel or Jews. When Pat Buchanan was running for president in 1992, I led a group of rabbis in raising a voice against his antisemitic and racist statements at his final “America First” rally in Marietta, on the eve of the Georgia primary.

There have been other times when I vigorously protested far-right antisemites, such as David Duke in 1991, when he announced his run for the presidency. More recently, we traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia after the horrific white supremacist march in 2017.

But antisemitism knows no color. And as there are white antisemites, so are there Black antisemites. And they, too, must be called out.

That’s why we protested Rev. Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam, and his former aide Khalid Abdul Mohammad in the 1990s. And that’s why I feel the need to continue to raise a voice against policies and rhetoric that are hurtful to the Jewish community.

For me, this is not easy. For decades, I have felt a deep connection to the Black community. This is why I joined a group to make a solidarity visit to the AME Church following the tragic Charleston shooting in 2015.  This is why our synagogue has had a deep connection with the Green Pastors Baptist Church for more than 30 years. Indeed, my deep connection has made it hard for me to speak out when Black community leaders have articulated policies that are inimical to Jewish interests.

I felt this tension when protesting New York Mayor David Dinkins for his mishandling of the Crown Heights riots in August 1991. And today, I feel this tension in raising a voice against Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Georgia Democratic candidate for the US Senate.

My concerns about Rev. Warnock run deep, and sadly, his attempts to explain these positions fall short:

  • In 2018, he accused Israeli soldiers in one of his sermons of “shoot[ing] down unarmed Palestinian sisters and brothers like birds of prey.” In fact, Israel’s military is one of the most moral, risking its soldiers’ lives to save thousands of Syrian refugees, and responding to attackers while doing all it can to minimize civilian casualties. This is in contrast to the Palestinian Authority’s policy of paying salaries to terrorists who murder Jews.
  • In 2019, Warnock signed onto a statement comparing Israeli control of Judea and Samara to apartheid South Africa. In fact, Palestinians maintain full control of the cities under their rule, as stipulated in the Oslo Accords, and Israeli-Arabs sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have the third-largest party in Israel’s parliament.
  • In that same statement, Warnock joined his colleagues in declaring that Israel’s security fence “walls in Palestinians” and is “reminiscent of the Berlin wall.” In fact, the partition has dramatically lowered Palestinian terrorist attacks against Jews. And as of March 2020, 87,000 Palestinians were crossing the fence to Israel regularly for work — hardly a Berlin Wall.
  • Most recently, in December, he did not raise a voice against Linda Sarsour, who came to Georgia to galvanize Georgia Democrats. Sarsour has supported terrorists, even lauding Rasmeah Odeh, a Palestinian convicted of killing two Hebrew University students in a 1969 supermarket bombing.

And so, while it hurts to raise a voice of Jewish conscience against Rev. Warnock, it is something I must do. As the sage Hillel once said, “if I am not for myself who will be for me; if I am only for myself what is my worth; and if not now, when?”

Avi Weiss is founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale-the Bayit and national president of AMCHA–the Coalition for Jewish Concerns. The author acknowledges the research help of Eitan Fischberger in preparing this op-ed.

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