Raphael Warnock signed letter likening West Bank to apartheid South Africa

Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic Senate candidate who on Tuesday advanced to a January runoff in Georgia’s hotly contested special election, last year signed his name to a statement likening Israeli control of the West Bank to “previous oppressive regimes” such as “apartheid South Africa” and suggesting that “ever-present physical walls that wall in Palestinians” are “reminiscent of the Berlin Wall.”

The statement, published on the website of the National Council of Churches, was signed by several Christian faith leaders who traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories in late February and early March of 2019 as part of a joint delegation including representatives of “historic black denominations of the National Council of Churches” as well as “heads of South African church denominations of the South African Council of Churches.”

The Progressive National Baptist Convention also released the same statement but included additional resolutions, one of which calls on the United States to end military aid to the Jewish state “and to work in cooperation with the United Nations to demand,” among other things, that Israel “cease the building of new, or expansion of existing, illegal Israeli settlements, checkpoints and apartheid roads in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

In the National Council of Churches statement, the faith leaders did not go so far as to call for an end to military aid but expressed hope for “an end of weapons sales and proliferation to all sides in the conflict and, indeed, to the entire region.”

Describing their trip as a “religious pilgrimage,” the faith leaders said in the statement that they had traveled to the Middle East “in the hope of meeting Israeli and Palestinian citizens” and to “better understand the realities on the ground, particularly related to the Occupied Palestinian territories” including East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

“We came as people with a shared history of racial segregation, victims of injustice, people who have been dehumanized and marginalized,” the statement says. “We came as people who stand against racism, against antisemitism, against Islamophobia.”

On their trip, the religious leaders visited Yad Vashem and held a Bible study session with a rabbi. “We heard the Jewish perspective that proposes a continuum from the biblical lands of Israel taken from the Canaanites, and the present-day political State of Israel,” they wrote. 

They also toured Palestinian communities, a refugee camp and “met with families who are fighting to keep their homes from being taken for Jewish settlements and developments.”

“We saw the patterns that seem to have been borrowed and perfected from other previous oppressive regimes,” the statement says, citing the “ever-present physical walls that wall in Palestinians in a political wall reminiscent of the Berlin Wall” and a “heavy militarization of the West Bank, reminiscent of the military occupation of Namibia by apartheid South Africa.”

The faith leaders returned from their trip “with heavy hearts” and “a forlorn sense” that the conflict would continue for many generations if appropriate action is not taken. “We are shocked,” the statement said, “at what appears to be an unstoppable gobbling up of Palestinian lands to almost render the proposed two-state solution unworkable.”

“We realize that there is little or no space for the Palestinian story to be heard by the ordinary Israelis,” they wrote, “and for the Israeli story to be heard by ordinary Palestinians.”

Warnock is senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King, Jr., previously served as a co-pastor. In a statement to Jewish Insider, Terrence Clark, a spokesman for Warnock’s campaign, said that Warnock does not support ending military aid to Israel and that he values the longstanding relationship between the United States and Israel.

“Reverend Warnock has deep respect for the invaluable relationship the United States has with Israel and how Georgia continues to benefit from that friendship,” Clark said. “The reservations he has expressed about settlement activity do not change his strong support for Israel and belief in its security — which is exactly why he opposes ending direct military aid to such a strong ally. Reverend Warnock is proud to be a part of interfaith communities that model respect and work to seek unity instead of division, he believes people of faith working together is essential to making progress on the issues important to our families, from access to affordable health care to creating a peaceful and secure world.”

Warnock came in first with more than 32% of the vote in Georgia’s Senate special election on Tuesday. On January 5, he will face off against Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), who was appointed to replace retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson at the beginning of the year and is now vying to serve out the remaining two years of his term.

This article was updated at 1:30 a.m. ET on Nov. 6 to include a statement from the Warnock campaign.

David Perdue and Jon Ossoff address antisemitism ahead of close election

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) has strong words against antisemitism. 

“Antisemitism has no place in society, period,” he told Jewish Insider in a candidate questionnaire. “It’s horrifying any time you see hate perpetrated against Jewish people in the United States or anywhere around the world.”

Despite his emphatic beliefs, Perdue’s opponent in Georgia’s upcoming Senate election, former journalist Jon Ossoff — who is Jewish — has argued that Perdue himself has recently perpetrated antisemitic hatred. 

In late July, Perdue’s campaign tactics came under scrutiny when the first-term Republican senator published a Facebook ad that enlarged Ossoff’s nose — a classic antisemitic stereotype. A spokesman for Perdue told The Forward, which first reported on the image, that the edit was “accidental” and the ad would be removed from the site. 

But Ossoff wasn’t buying it. “This is the oldest, most obvious, least original antisemitic trope in history,” the 33-year-old Democratic candidate wrote in a Twitter statement when the ad was publicized by national media outlets. “Senator, literally no one believes your excuses.”

(Read the complete Perdue and Ossoff questionnaires, along with many others on JI’s interactive election map.)

Perdue did not mention the ad in his responses to the JI questionnaire, which includes a question asking candidates whether they believe there is a concerning rise of antisemitism, including in their own party.  

“I’ve been a friend of Israel and the Jewish community since I was very young,” the senator averred. “Since I got to the U.S. Senate, I’ve made fighting antisemitism and all forms of bigotry a top priority. Unfortunately, we saw this issue at the forefront in 2017 after a string of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers across the country. That was unacceptable, and I worked with national security officials in the Trump administration to make sure there would be a long-term strategy to protect these JCCs and other places of worship.”

For his part, Ossoff also chose to not directly address Perdue’s controversial ad in responding to JI’s questionnaire, despite his previous caustic statement directed at the incumbent. 

“Sectarianism and racism often increase at moments of great social, economic, and political stress — especially when dangerous political demagogues like Donald Trump deliberately inflame mistrust, resentment, and hatred to gain power,” Ossoff told JI. “Racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia have increased in America as President Trump has deliberately pitted Americans against Americans, stirring up conflict within our society rather than uniting us to move forward together as one people.”

But Ossoff’s answer could also have been regarded as an implicit critique of Perdue’s reelection tactics. “I learned about public and political leadership from my mentor, Congressman John Lewis, who taught me to focus on our shared humanity above our racial, religious and cultural differences,” Ossoff continued, referring to the Georgia representative and civil rights leader who endorsed Ossoff before his death on July 17. 

“My state, our country and all humanity will only achieve our full potential and build the Beloved Community [a term coined by Lewis] by recognizing that we are all in this together, that our interests are aligned and that hatred, prejudice and discrimination only hold us back.”

Despite the tension between the two candidates, both emphasized their support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

“Any peace deal should protect the political freedom and human rights of all people in the region and ensure Israel’s security as a homeland for the Jewish people without threat of terrorism or invasion,” Ossoff declared. “The aim of the peace process should be secure and peaceful coexistence, political freedom and prosperity for people of all faiths and nationalities in the Middle East.”

“Obviously there is no simple fix but a two-state solution would be the best outcome for both sides,” Perdue told JI. “However, that won’t happen unless the Palestinians are willing to come to the table, negotiate in good faith and cut ties with terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. The Palestinian Authority has to end their practice of providing stipends for known terrorists. It’s ridiculous and the reason I support the Taylor Force Act. We’ve got to make sure the United States isn’t sending foreign aid until these payments end. Israel has made it clear that they are open to living in peace with the Palestinians. You’ve seen a willingness by Israel to begin negotiations. The Palestinians must do the same in order to solve this issue.”

Perdue and Ossoff also both expressed their commitment to ensuring that Israel maintains its security edge in the Middle East. 

“The special relationship between the U.S. and Israel is deeply rooted and strategically important to both countries, but it cannot be taken for granted,” Ossoff told JI. “Security cooperation, trade and cultural ties enrich and strengthen both countries. The U.S. Congress, with strong bipartisan support, should play an essential role in maintaining and strengthening healthy and open relations between the U.S. and Israel.”

“The U.S.-Israel relationship is both special and strategic,” Perdue said, while noting that his first foreign trip as a senator was to Israel. “It is special because we share the common values of freedom and democracy, and it’s strategic because Israel is America’s strongest ally in the Middle East.”

“President Trump has shown that Israel is and will continue to be a priority,” Perdue added. “By moving our U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the president recognized the historic and modern reality that Jerusalem is the center for the Jewish people and all parts of Israeli government. Jerusalem is unquestionably Israel’s capital.”

Still, Perdue and Ossoff differ when it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). 

Perdue supports Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement. “President Obama’s Iran deal was an unmitigated disaster,” he told JI. “It’s very clear that the Obama-Biden Administration’s weak foreign policy only emboldened Iran and made the world less safe. Trusting Iran to change was not only naive, but it also created a national security risk for our ally Israel.”

Ossoff disagrees, with qualifications. “Nuclear weapons proliferation is one of the gravest threats to U.S. and world security,” he said. “I support robust efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons anywhere. An Iranian nuclear weapons capability would pose an existential threat to Israel and other U.S. allies and would pose a critical threat to U.S. national security.”

“I opposed the Trump administration’s unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA,” he added. “In the Senate, I will support U.S. participation in an agreement that prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons, whether based on the JCPOA, another multilateral agreement or a desperately needed new global nuclear arms reduction and nonproliferation treaty.”

Ossoff, who narrowly lost a 2017 congressional bid, is hoping he can best Perdue in November’s election as the Democrats are strategizing to flip the Senate. The Cook Political Report has rated the race a “toss-up.”

Despite acrimony, Loeffler and Collins walk in virtual lockstep on Israel

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) are locked in an acrimonious battle ahead of the U.S. Senate special election in Georgia on November 3. Collins, who represents a portion of northeastern Georgia, entered the race to compete against Loeffler shortly after she assumed office in early January, having been appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp against the objections of President Donald Trump, who favored Collins for the seat.

But when it comes to Israel, the two Republican candidates hold virtually indistinguishable views, according to questionnaires solicited by Jewish Insider and filled out by the candidates. 

Loeffler and Collins both support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, endorse Trump’s Middle East peace plan, back continued foreign aid to the Jewish state and believe that the administration was right to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal brokered by former President Barack Obama.

“We knew from the beginning that any deal negotiated by the Obama Administration would not go far enough to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon or to protect Israel from a nuclear Iran,” Collins wrote in response to questions from JI, echoing Loeffler, who said that Iran had “only become more emboldened in its efforts to attack U.S. interests and U.S. allies like Israel” during the time that the deal was in place.

(Read the Collins and Loeffler questionnaires, and many others, on Jewish Insider’s interactive election map.)

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Loeffler and Collins — both of whom have positioned themselves as Trump loyalists — hold harmonious views. 

“I agree with President Trump that, especially given Israel’s agreement to terms for a potential Palestinian state, a two-state solution is a pragmatic approach that respects the validity of Israel and its people while giving Palestinians the opportunity to self-govern and remain in their communities,” Collins wrote. “Within a two-state solution, it is imperative that Israel remain the ultimate guardian of holy sites and Jerusalem to ensure all who want to worship in these sacred places will continue to have the opportunity to do so. It is also imperative that, in any agreement, Israel has defensible borders to continue to protect themselves from any future attacks.”

The senator’s response was similar. “It has become increasingly clear that a two-state solution is the best path to peace in the Middle East, and I support President Trump’s historic efforts to deliver Israel the security and autonomy it needs to prosper,” she said. “Like President Trump, I believe that any path to peace must recognize undivided Jerusalem as the capital and territory of Israel.”

Loeffler added that “any Palestinian nation must be strictly policed to ensure that the violence perpetuated by Palestinians (especially through Hamas) comes to an end so that both the Palestinians and the Israeli people can fully prosper.”

Both candidates cited their records on the Hill supporting aid to Israel. Collins, for his part, pointed to legislation he introduced in 2013 to bolster Israel’s defense interests, while Loeffler noted that she was a co-sponsor of the United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act, “which will send additional funds to Israel in order to upgrade its military equipment, improve its ground force, strengthen its missile defense system, and expand the U.S. weapons stockpile in Israel.”

The candidates also agree that there is a concerning rise of antisemitism in the U.S., but reserve judgement only for the Democratic Party. “Sadly, we have witnessed this rising tide of antisemitism in Congress over the last several years,” Collins said, “with a growing number of members in the Democratic Caucus voicing their support for the BDS movement, which attacks Israel’s very right to exist.”

Loeffler went a step further in her questionnaire, calling out Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) who, according to the senator, “has repeatedly called Israel evil and openly called for the dissolution of the nation state of Israel.” She was also critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, which, she wrote, “continually endorses the BDS movement and has called Israel an ‘apartheid state.’”

Loeffler and Collins are running in a competitive special election that includes two formidable Democratic opponents: Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and Matt Lieberman, son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). 

Should no candidate clear 50% of the vote on November 3, then the top two candidates will advance to a runoff to be held in January.