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Raphael Warnock, under fire for past criticism of Israel, rejects BDS and backs US defense assistance

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat running for Senate in Georgia, said Tuesday that he had an “increasing recognition” of the danger that Hamas poses to Israel since his harsh criticisms of Israel in a 2018 sermon at his church.

Warnock also said he opposed the boycott Israel movement.

“There has been some comment about a sermon I gave in May of 2018,” Warnock said in a call organized by the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

He was referring to attacks by his opponent, incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler, who has cited Warnock’s sermon delivered after Israeli troops opened fire on protesters at the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

“We saw the government of Israel shoot down unarmed Palestinian sisters and brothers like birds of prey,” he said at the time.

“As you might imagine, I’m a pastor,” Warnock said on the JDCA call. “I preach every Sunday, I preach a lot of sermons. And I think that, as I recall that sermon, I was speaking to the issue of activists and human rights, and the ability of people to be heard. At the same time, I have an increasing recognition of Hamas and the danger that they pose to the Israeli people.”

By the time of the incident Warnock cited, Hamas was playing an increasing role in organizing the demonstrations, and some protesters were violent.

Warnock also unequivocally condemned the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel, and said he supported U.S. defense assistance to Israel and the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In condemning BDS, he noted Israeli solar panel companies operating in Georgia, and their contributions to the Georgia economy.

The JDCA call also included Jon Ossoff, who is running in the Jan. 5 runoff election against the other Republican incumbent, David Perdue. Should Warnock and Ossoff win, the Democrats would gain control of the Senate.

Throughout much of the call, the two Democrats invoked the Black-Jewish alliance and how it persisted in Georgia beyond its heyday of the 1960s.

“You’ve got Jon, an awesome young Jewish man, and an African-American pastor running together with shared values, shared commitment,” he said.

Warnock is the pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached until his 1968 assassination.

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