With control of the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, the two runoff elections scheduled to take place in Georgia on Jan. 5 are, in effect, national elections. Attention and campaign dollars have been attracted from far and wide, since the Georgia results will determine whether the United States will have divided government during at least the first two years of the Biden presidency, or will be Democrat-led on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. With the margins so small, and the stakes so high, it’s not surprising that Georgia’s Jews are being courted by the candidates, and sometimes in disturbing ways.
Jewish Democrat Jon Ossoff is in a tight race against Republican Sen. David Perdue. Neither garnered a majority of votes necessary for victory in November, with incumbent Perdue receiving 49.7 percent of the vote and Ossoff a close 47.9 percent. The runoff race promises to remain close and hotly contested. We hope that the nasty kerfuffle over a Perdue ad that elongated Ossoff’s nose is behind us.
The real heat, however, is being generated in the other race — the runoff to complete the term of Sen. Johnny Isakson (R), who retired for health reasons. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) was appointed to fill the seat until the fall elections. Her runoff opponent is Rev. Raphael Warnock (D). In the crowded November race — which featured a whopping 20 candidates — Warnock received 32.9 percent of the vote and Loeffler 25.9 percent, with neither achieving the necessary 50 percent plus to be elected.
Now that the field has narrowed, things are getting nasty. In a made-for-election controversy, Loeffler took a letter Warnock signed that called for a renewed commitment to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and that bemoaned “the conditions in which Palestinian communities live,” and spun it into a doomsday tweet in which she claimed that Warnock “has a long history of anti-Israel extremism.” Reaction was quick, and largely negative, with concern expressed about unsupported charges designed to influence Jewish voters in Georgia, and pro-Israel funders around the country.
In our view, criticism of the painful plight of victimized Palestinians does not make someone any more anti-Semitic or anti-Israel than criticism of President Donald Trump makes someone anti-American. The real test is what the individual says and does, and how that person interacts with others. In the case of Warnock — who holds the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s old pulpit at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta — Georgia’s Jews, including candidate Ossoff, say he is a friend.
The consequential Senate elections in Georgia have enough at stake without distractions that play to voter prejudice and bias. While we continue to favor a divided government that will require engagement, negotiation and compromise for significant policy decisions to be made, we oppose any effort to inject bias or prejudice into the mix — particularly unsubstantiated accusations. We encourage constraint in the run-up to Georgia’s consequential runoff elections in January.