Rabbis’ Letters Address Warnock Statements

Rabbis’ Letters Address Warnock Statements

A letter published by the Jewish Democratic Council of America prompted a rebuttal from the Coalition for Jewish Values.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Rev. Raphael Warnock’s statements have become the subject of letters from different groups of rabbis.
Rev. Raphael Warnock’s statements have become the subject of letters from different groups of rabbis.

Differing groups of Jewish clergy have defended and denounced statements about Israel made by Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidate for one of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats.

The letters illustrate how the Jewish community is being targeted in advance of the Jan. 5 runoffs in which Warnock is challenging interim Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Jon Ossoff is seeking to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue.

The first letter, published Nov. 23 by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, was intended as “a rejection of false and divisive slander entering our community.” The names of some 200 Jewish clergy — included 16 from Atlanta — were attached.

“Rev. Warnock recognizes that being a true friend also means being a truth-teller who does not shy away from hard conversations, and he has made no secret of his strong reservations and concerns over Israeli settlement expansion, which may impede prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the JDCA letter said.

That letter also suggested that racial bias might play into “baseless claims and attacks” against Warnock, the African American senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. “We sign this letter not as an endorsement of a particular candidate, but a rejection of false and divisive slander entering our community. … We abhor the politics of dividing traditionally marginalized communities in order to consolidate political power,” the letter said.

On Dec. 14, the Coalition for Jewish Values, which claims to represent 1,500 “traditional” rabbis, released a rebuttal that said: “the fact that partisan clergy sign a letter does not, unfortunately, mean its words are true.” The authors of the CJV letter included Rabbi Ilan Feldman of Congregation Beth Jacob.

The CJV referenced a Dec. 8 JDCA event, during which Warnock said, “I do not believe Israel is an apartheid state, as some have suggested.”

Rabbi Ilan Feldman is one of the four authors of a letter about Rev. Raphael Warnock from the Coalition for Jewish Values.

The CJV letter said, “We appreciated hearing Rev. Raphael Warnock present his views and defend his record … But 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.’”

In its letter, the CJV continued: “To liken a country in which Jews and Arabs share seats in government and at the Supreme Court to a country in which Blacks and Whites did not share hospital rooms, classrooms or even bathrooms is to make a despicable comparison – and one redolent with Antisemitic bias.”

Another campaign flashpoint has been a letter that Warnock joined following a February 2019 trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories with a delegation of African American and South African ministers organized by the National Council of Churches. The ministers said that they observed “the heavy militarization of the West Bank, reminiscent of the military occupation of Namibia by apartheid South Africa” and saw “patterns that seem to have been borrowed and perfected from other previous oppressive regimes,” citing “laws of segregation that allow one thing for the Jewish people and another for the Palestinians . . .”

The ministers’ letter also said: “We admit that silence in the face of injustice is complicity,” referencing “many Christians that were silent and closed their ears against the sound of the deadly apartheid jackboot in the lives of South African blacks,” as well as those who “condoned” and benefited from slavery, and those who “were silent and complicit to the horror of the Holocaust.”

The CJV objected to that statement, and said, “In fact, the statement’s reference to silence of Christians during apartheid, slavery and the Holocaust could easily be read to infer that the behavior of Jews in Israel is somehow comparable to that of South African whites, slaveowners, or even Nazis. Such a dystopian vision can only be attributed to Antisemitism.”

The CJV also referenced a May 2018 sermon in which Warnock discussed a week that included dedication of the U.S. Embassy location in Jerusalem and clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians. “We saw the government of Israel shoot down unarmed Palestinian sisters and brothers like birds of prey. And I don’t care who does it, it is wrong. It is wrong to shoot down God’s children like they don’t matter at all. And it’s no more anti-Semitic for me to say that than it is anti-white for me to say that Black lives matter. Palestinian lives matter,” Warnock said.

The CJV said: “Rev. Warnock misused his pulpit to bear false witness. He saw no such thing, because it never happened. Each and every element of his statement was false, defamatory, and bigoted.

“And thus we must ask: when, and in what circumstance, did Rev. Warnock reject his aforementioned previous, hateful positions? Only a fool, or someone callously unconcerned for the safety of Israel and the Jewish community, would grant credence to what he says on the campaign trail today to Jewish audiences, over what he said just a year ago in front of his own, supportive congregation,” the CJV letter said.

While Feldman was one of the four listed authors of the CJV letter, the Atlanta area clergy signing the JDCA letter included: Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder, Rabbi Peter Berg, Rabbi Joab Eichenberg-Eilon, Rabbi Brian Glusman, Rabbi Ari Kaiman, Rabbi Lauren Henderson, Rabbi Steven Lebow, Rabbi Joshua Lesser, Rabbi Ellen Nemhauser, Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal, Rabbi Neil Sandler, Rabba Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez, Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, Rabbi Scott Sperling, Darshanit Miriam Udel, and Rabbi Harvey J Winokur.

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