US Senate candidate Kelly Loeffler, a Republican, is appealing to the fears and simmering hatreds of some white people in Georgia. She intends to paint her Democratic rival, Rev. Raphael Warnock, as an anti-Israel and Black Lives Matter extremist.
Loeffler, who was challenged this year over possible financial misconduct, has lambasted the Black Lives Matter movement and has promoted an interview she did with Jack Posobiec, a journalist the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has described as “associated with white supremacy and Nazism.”
She also recently tweeted that her January runoff opponent “has a long history of anti-Israel extremism,” has “embraced the anti-Zionist BLM organization,” and “thinks Israel is an ‘oppressive regime’ for fighting back against terrorism.”
In response, rather than cite her interview dalliance with white supremacy associate Posobiec, Warnock is racing away from human rights positions he had staked out on Palestine prior to his run against Loeffler.
Yes, the senior pastor at the same Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta at which Martin Luther King Jr. preached is much stronger than Loeffler on broader issues of racial and social justice, but he has quickly shown that when challenged he is unwilling to stand up for Palestinian rights.
The stakes here are high in the context of the incoming Joe Biden administration and for both US domestic and foreign policy.
Democrat Jon Ossoff is running against Republican David Perdue in the other US Senate runoff race in the state. Democrats have to win both seats to control the US Senate – with Kamala Harris, currently the Vice President-elect, providing the potential tie-breaking vote.
Should they manage a double victory in Georgia, Democrats will control Congress as well as the White House. Such an outcome should allow them to pursue a domestic agenda much more successfully than if Republicans manage to hold on to a majority in the Senate.
If, however, the Democrats intend to build a diverse coalition that includes Palestinian Americans then Palestinians can’t simply be abandoned as a weak link for not being demographically prominent. Either Israeli apartheid and the denial of equal rights is a problem or it isn’t. It can’t simply be a problem until a right-wing and bigoted Republican candidate employs demagogic language against a Democrat.
Warnock came under fire this month after Jewish Insider revealed that he signed a National Council of Churches letter describing a trip to “Israel and Palestine” in which Palestinian rights are upheld, including those of refugees.
The participants included letter signers who referred to themselves as “descendants of those who survived slavery, Jim Crow and who work now to dismantle the new Jim Crow of mass incarceration and militarization of police in our communities.”
The letter cited “patterns that seem to have been borrowed and perfected from other previous oppressive regimes” such as “ever-present physical walls that wall in Palestinians,” “heavy militarization of the West Bank, reminiscent of the military occupation of Namibia by apartheid South Africa,” and “laws of segregation that allow one thing for the Jewish people and another for the Palestinians.”
But Warnock now appears to be afraid of losing electorally and is ready to walk back his views on Palestinian rights and freedom.
Rather than challenge Loeffler for attacking Palestinian aspirations and for red-baiting attacks on Black Lives Matter similar to attacks in the 1960s on King and other civil rights activists, Warnock is currently saying that he “strongly oppose[s]” the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and “its anti-Semitic underpinnings, including its supporters’ refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.”
This is a false claim. BDS does not take a position one way or another on two states or one as Ali Abunimah has noted. BDS doesn’t reject Israel’s right to exist, but rather rejects Israel as an apartheid state denying equal rights to Palestinians.
Additionally, his vitriolic attack on the BDS movement – which aims to end the Israeli occupation, secure equal rights for Palestinians living in Israel, and uphold the right of return for Palestinian refugees – raises the question: Has he ever read Omar Barghouti or George Bisharat on BDS?
Or is it simply politically expedient in his attempted march to the US Senate for him to say everybody has a First Amendment right to boycott their oppressors, but when Palestinians do it’s anti-Semitic? He’s showing that he’s unwilling to lift while he moves toward a vital US Senate seat. Instead, Palestinians are disposable and can be stepped on in reaching his personal goals.
This isn’t leadership but capitulation to right-wing bigotry and the worst impulses in the Democratic Party. It’s profoundly depressing because Warnock seemingly knew better when not running for office – though his attendance at last year’s AIPAC policy conference does suggest an openness to conservative views defending Israel’s long-running subjugation of Palestinians – and because Loeffler is a danger to both Palestinians and African Americans.
It’s a discouraging calculation by Warnock that equal rights for Palestinians are far less of a consideration for voters in Georgia than upholding standard Democratic positions providing copious amounts of military aid to Israel.
In a new op-ed published by Jewish Insider titled “I stand with Israel,” Warnock writes that he supports a two-state solution and self-determination for Palestinians, but says he also supports President Barack Obama’s $38 billion in military aid to Israel over 10 years and agrees with President-elect Biden that “placing conditions on our assistance would be a mistake.”
In other words, no Israeli human rights violation or annexation of the West Bank would lead him to reconsider military aid to Israel.
Warnock also now says he does not believe Israel is an apartheid state.
The Georgia Democrat wasn’t expected to write op-eds titled “I stand with the Confederacy” or “I stand with the National Rifle Association” to placate white QAnon voters in his home state. (Loeffler has notably campaigned with Marjorie Taylor Greene, who earlier this month was elected to the US House of Representatives despite being an adherent of the QAnon conspiracy theory that has anti-Semitic roots and promotes wild claims of pedophilia within the Democratic Party.)
Yet Palestinians, as is too often the case with Democratic politicians, are readily marginalized in a desperate bid to curry favor with Georgia’s larger body of white evangelical voters.
And Warnock is wrong if he thinks that his revised stance will influence Georgia’s much smaller community of Jewish voters. They will be well aware of the white supremacy machinations of Loeffler and Trump. If concern about the racism exhibited by Loeffler and Trump doesn’t lead Jewish voters to cast ballots for Warnock then running away from equal rights for Palestinians certainly won’t do the job either.
This year, early estimates in the state put Trump even with Biden at 49 percent each of Jewish voters – a move toward Trump that I find difficult to believe at this early juncture. And, in fact, methodological concerns have been raised with me about how the Georgia figure was reached.
But the possible shift will surely alarm Warnock’s advisers as Trump is every bit as racist as Loeffler.
This week Loeffler was one of four Republican champions of Israeli settler-colonialism to sign a letter to Trump calling for him “to change US customs policy and guidelines to allow Israeli goods produced in Judea and Samaria to be labeled ‘Made in Israel.’” American zealots for Israel have taken to displaying their fervent commitment to Israel by referring to the West Bank as “Judea and Samaria.”
Warnock, if serious about equal rights for all people, should have the courage to assert such facts.
Instead, he is sending the signal that he doesn’t truly believe in anything and that his concern in a 2018 sermon that “Palestinian lives matter” are simply empty words.
The non-politician Warnock, the presumably authentic Warnock, is transforming before our eyes into a politician who claims that if you stand up for Palestinian lives and rights and take action to secure Palestinian freedom through BDS that you are engaged in anti-Semitism.
This isn’t leadership. It’s Democratic business as usual. It doesn’t teach about the reality of what Palestinians face and should cause key parts of the Democratic base to question what else and who else Warnock is willing to jettison.
Warnock’s abandonment of Palestinian rights is made all the more painful by the fact that Democrats in Georgia have nowhere else to go as Loeffler is even more stridently against Palestinian rights. Warnock should have provided Democrats a consistent voice. Now we don’t know when or how he’ll compromise his beliefs next.
Yes, I get it that until recently Georgia was a reliably conservative state and that the Senate is at stake in the two Georgia US Senate runoff elections. But people also want politicians who have well-considered principles and won’t abandon those viewpoints just because they’re now in the political arena. Would-be progressives should stand for something and not just give the impression they’ll reverse themselves for a vote.
I always disliked it when Republicans said of Senator Jesse Helms, “Well, at least you know where he stands.” Yes, you did, but it was an outrageous defense because invariably Helms was standing against equal rights.
For those Georgians who follow these matters, however, it’s now unclear whether Warnock actually believes in equal rights for Palestinians. And, if he does support Palestinian equal rights in word, he’s signaled that indeed he opposes BDS and cutting military aid as a means to secure those rights.
His inconsistency can’t be good for his candidacy even when facing a weak and corrupt politician who thinks she’s helped by hobnobbing with a journalist tied to white supremacy and Nazism.
Warnock remains the superior candidate, but this sort of embrace of apartheid Israel and abandonment of Palestinian rights is getting old and won’t sit well with a part of his constituency.