Campaign check: Loeffler casts Warnock as anti-Israel


“@ReverendWarnock has a long history of anti-Israel extremism.” -Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Twitter, Nov. 9

What we found:

As the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Rev. Raphael Warnock spoke about Israel over the years. Now that he is a Democratic Senate candidate, his statements are being criticized by Sen. Kelly Loeffler, his Republican opponent in the U.S. Senate runoff election in Georgia.

In a Nov. 9 tweet, Loeffler said that Warnock, “has a long history of anti-Israel extremism. He defended Jeremiah Wright’s anti-Semitic comments. He embraced the anti-Zionist BLM organization. And he thinks Israel is an ‘oppressive regime’ for fighting back against terrorism.”

Loeffler also linked to a Nov. 6 article from the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online publication started by the Center for American Freedom. It reported that Warnock signed a statement criticizing Israel in March 2019.

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Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

After Loeffler’s comments, Warnock received public support from a group of nearly 200 rabbis from Georgia and across the country who signed a statement reject “attempts to divide the Black and Jewish communities.”

“We stand with Rev. Raphael Warnock against these attacks, and implore other Jewish leaders to stand with us,” the statement said, which the rabbis indicated wasn’t an endorsement of Warnock.

Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple, Atlanta’s oldest Jewish congregation and a friend of Warnock’s, told the AJC, “The recent attacks against Rev. Warnock misrepresent his position on Israel.” Berg also doesn’t endorse candidates, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Jon Ossoff, a Democratic Senate candidate in a runoff election against Sen. David Perdue, called the criticisms of Warnock “ridiculous, false invective,” the AJC reported. Ossoff, who is Jewish, added: “The only anti-Semitism in a Senate race is from David Perdue, who lengthened my nose in attack ads.”

But Dan Israel, a Republican and former board member of the American Jewish Committee, told the AJC that the church leaders’ statement Warnock signed “impugns the Jewish homeland and the Jewish people because it is patently false.”

More recently, two prominent Orthodox rabbis from Georgia raised concerns about pastor statements, the AJC reported.

“We are concerned and hurt by the manner in which the Reverend brushed aside his past rhetoric against Israel and the Jewish community, and even blamed his opponents for ‘trying to use Israel as yet another wedge issue,’” Rabbi Ilan Feldman from Atlanta’s Congregation Beth Jacob and Rabbi Avigdor Slatus from Congregation Bnai Brith Jacob in Savannah wrote in a letter to the Warnock campaign this week.

The first of Loeffler’s claims refers to Warnock’s defense over the years of controversial pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, formerly of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ. Wright has been criticized for remarks considered anti-Semitic. While Warnock has defended the messages behind Wright’s sometimes-inflammatory sermons, he has not publicly supported Wright for specific comments about Jewish people.

In an interview with Fox News published Nov. 12, Warnock said, “I’ve never defended anti-Semitic comments from anyone and Kelly Loeffler knows better.” Terrence Clark, a Warnock campaign spokesman, told Fox News that the candidate “doesn’t agree with all of the positions other pastors support, and has said such throughout this campaign.”

Loeffler’s second claim that Warnock supports Black Lives Matter (BLM) is true, but her characterization of the movement is controversial. PolitiFact, the non-partisan fact-checking outlet, has reported that more than 600 Jewish organizations have declared support for BLM, but that some Jewish leaders have expressed concern about isolated incidents of anti-Israel statements linked to the movement.

The final claim in Loeffler’s tweet refers to the nearly 2,000-word “Group Pilgrimage Statement on Israel and Palestine” that Warnock signed in 2019, after traveling to the Middle East with a delegation of Black church leaders from the United States and the South African Council of Churches, according to National Council of Churches. The leaders “traveled throughout Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories for fact-finding and bridge-building,” the NCC news release said.

In the statement, the church leaders recounted visiting the Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial and learning the extent of “Hitler’s effort to exterminate the Jewish people.” They also said the “heavy militarization of the West Bank” was “reminiscent of the military occupation of Namibia by apartheid South Africa.”

The church leaders’ trip came just over a year after the U.S. Embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which President Donald Trump declared the capital of Israel in December 2017, reversing decades of U.S. foreign policy, as The New York Times reported.

In early November, Warnock wrote a commentary, “I Stand With Israel,” which was posted on the website of the Jewish Democratic Council of America and elsewhere. “Claims that I believe Israel is an apartheid state are patently false,” Warnock said. “I do not believe that.”

He also expressed concern about Israel’s settlement expansion. “I believe it is a threat to the prospect of a two-state solution, which I believe is the only path to enduring peace,” he said.

The commentary links to a position paper in which the candidate calls for Jerusalem to become a shared capital after a Middle East peace agreement is reached, as the AJC reported.

More recently, Warnock and Ossoff faced criticism for hosting a campaign event in which Congressman Hank Johnson appeared. In 2016, Johnson faced backlash after referring to Israelis building settlements in disputed West Bank to “termites.” He later apologized.

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