(JTA) — The two candidates in a critical runoff election for the U.S. Senate exchanged charges of associations with anti-Semites and white supremacists during a televised debate Sunday night.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler faced off in Atlanta ahead of a Jan. 5 special election that could determine which party controls the Senate.
Loeffler twice scored Warnock, who is Black, for defending the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Chicago pastor whose anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements drove his one-time parishioner President Barack Obama to renounce him. Wright also is Black.
“He’s called Israel an apartheid state and said that we should end military assistance,” she said of Warnock. “He’s compared Israelis defending themselves against Palestinians, he has compared them to birds of prey. And he celebrated Jeremiah Wright, an anti-American anti-Semite. That’s divisive.”
Warnock has been sharply critical of Israel in his sermons, including in denouncing snipers targeting violent protesters on the border with the Gaza Strip. He once signed a document likening Israel’s occupation of the West Bank to apartheid South Africa’s occupation of Namibia; it did not liken Israel to an apartheid state. Warnock has said that he would uphold current levels of defense assistance to Israel.
The Democrat in turn reminded viewers of Loeffler’s close alliance with Marjorie Taylor Greene, a newly elected Georgia congresswoman who has embraced theories aligned with the QAnon conspiracy movement, which includes anti-Semitic tropes.
“She says she is against racism and that racism has no place, but she welcomed the support of a QAnon conspiracy theorist and she sat down with a white supremacist for an interview,” Warnock said. “I don’t think she can explain that.”
The white supremacist interview apparently refers to Loeffler’s friendly interview this summer with Jack Posobiec, a right-wing provocateur who at one point had associations with white supremacists, but more recently has been associated with what the Anti-Defamation League has termed the “alt-lite,” a branch of the far right that claims to seek the ouster of white supremacists from right-wing ranks.
If Democrats win both runoffs in Georgia next month, they will have control of Senate. The other race is between Jon Ossoff, a Jewish Democrat, and incumbent Sen. David Perdue. That race also has been marked by accusations of anti-Semitism — for instance, Perdue has run ads depicting Ossoff with a digitally altered nose to make it seem larger.
Perdue has refused to debate Ossoff, so the challenger appeared Sunday on a debate stage by himself.