NEW YORK — The political action committee for a center-left, pro-Israel group on Wednesday announced its endorsement of Raphael Warnock, a Democrat who has come under fire for his criticism of the Jewish state during his campaign to unseat Republican Kelly Loeffler in next month’s Senate runoff election in Georgia.
“Dr. Warnock is strongly committed to strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship as well as to achieving social justice, delivering affordable health care for all Americans, and creating opportunity for all to succeed,” Democratic Majority for Israel PAC president Mark Mellman said in a statement.
Mellman pointed to Warnock’s pledges to uphold the Obama-brokered defense package for Israel and oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement if elected.
The DMFI president also recalled the personal invitation Reverend Warnock had extended to Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer in 2015 to address his church, the same congregation once led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“In his introduction, Rev. Warnock described Israel as ‘one of America’s closest allies and a longtime friend.’ Ambassador Dermer called Warnock’s invitation to speak at Ebenezer Baptist Church ‘the greatest honor that has been bestowed upon me since I became Israel’s Ambassador to the United States,'” Mellman said.
Warnock responded to the endorsement in a tweet thanking DMFI. “I’m proud to receive your endorsement & I’m grateful for the work you do to support our party’s values. Echoing Dr. King, as senator I’ll stand for Israel’s security & will work to strengthen the alliance between our nations,” the Democratic candidate said.
Loeffler throughout the campaign has highlighted a 2018 sermon Warnock delivered days after Israeli troops fired on Palestinians during violent protests at the Gaza border against the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
“We saw the government of Israel shoot down unarmed Palestinian sisters and brothers like birds of prey,” Warnock said in the speech.
A Hamas official later said that 50 of 62 Gazans killed in the days of riots and clashes were its members; another three were members of Islamic Jihad.
Speaking at a candidates’ forum organized by the Jewish Democratic Council of America on Tuesday, Warnock addressed the criticism sparked by his remarks. “I was speaking to the issue of activists and human rights, and the ability of people to be heard,” he said.
“At the same time, I have an increasing recognition of Hamas and the danger that they pose to the Israeli people,” he added, asserting that he also supported “non-violent resistance.”
“My opponents are trying to use Israel as yet another wedge issue in this campaign,” Warnock said.
On January 5, Warnock will square off against Loeffler while Republican Senator David Perdue will face Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff in a pair of runoff races.
Victories in both races would allow the Democrats to gain a majority in the Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris able to cast a tie-breaking vote in the event of a deadlock. Polls show both races to be neck-and-neck.
JTA contributed to this report