Ultimately, the voters of Georgia will decide who represents them in the U.S. Senate.
In the meantime, until the polls close on Jan. 5, the intense national interest in the two Senate runoffs extends to the island of Martha’s Vineyard, off the Massachusetts coast, where lawyer-professor-author-commentator Alan Dershowitz is following the goings on down South and wanted to talk about what he believes is at stake.
Speaking Tuesday to the Atlanta Jewish Times via Zoom, Dershowitz outlined two competing interests. The constitutional scholar, who identifies as a liberal Democrat, believes that the Republicans “stole a seat” on the Supreme Court of the United States in 2016 when the Senate denied a confirmation hearing to appellate judge Merrick Garland, nominated by then-President Barack Obama. “As somebody who cares deeply about the Supreme Court, my predisposition obviously is to support a candidate who assures control of the Senate by the Democrats,” Dershowitz said.
The Georgia runoffs offer that opportunity, but to win control of the Senate, Democrats must win both races. Jon Ossoff must unseat incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue and Rev. Raphael Warnock must defeat interim Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the winner filling the final two years in the term of retired Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson. In a Senate divided 50-50, the tie-breaking vote would be held by the incoming vice president, Democrat Kamala Harris.
The rub for Dershowitz lies in the latter race. “On the other hand, I am strongly pro-Israel and I believe American support for Israel is good for America, good for world peace, and is good for Israel. And I’m deeply concerned about the Rev. Warnock’s positions that he took in 2017, -18, -19, and I’m suspicious of what I call convenient candidacy conversions, and so I’m skeptical about what the Rev. Warnock’s real views are on Israel,” Dershowitz said.
A self-described secular Jew who worships at an Orthodox shul, Dershowitz said that he has heard from many in the Jewish community that Warnock will be supportive of Israel if elected to the Senate.
As a candidate, Warnock has declared himself to be pro-Israel and denied that he believes Israel is an “apartheid state.” He has expressed support for the “two-state solution” between Israel and the Palestinians, opposition to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, backing for the Memorandum of Understanding through which Israel will receive $31 billion in U.S. military aid over 10 years, and said that Iran cannot be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
Dershowitz rejected complaints that snippets from Warnock’s sermons are being misused to portray the African American senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church as anti-Israel. “We have not quoted him out of context. He went to Israel. He signed a statement. The statement is a broad statement, containing many, many, many very strongly anti-Israel sentiments. Read that statement as a whole, it is very anti-Israel,” Dershowitz said.
The statement that Warnock signed was issued after a February-March 2019 trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, as part of a delegation of African American clergy under the auspices of the National Council of Churches, along with clergy from the South African Council of Churches. It referenced “heavy militarization of the West Bank, reminiscent of the military occupation of Namibia by apartheid South Africa” and “what appears to be an unstoppable gobbling up of Palestinian lands to almost render the proposed two-state solution unworkable.” The ministers also compared Israeli security barriers to the Berlin Wall and criticized “laws of segregation that allow one thing for the Jewish people and another for the Palestinians.”
On another campaign flashpoint, Dershowitz likewise said, “When he [Warnock] says that Israel shoots down unarmed Palestinians ‘like birds of prey,’ that is not out of context.”
In a May 2018 sermon, Warnock discussed a week that included dedication of the U.S. Embassy location in Jerusalem and clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians. In that sermon he said, “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.”
Dershowitz said, “I am a moderate, centrist, supporter of Israel, who supports the two-state solution. I support Palestinian rights, but what the Rev. Warnock has said — at the time he said it — represented a deeply bigoted and anti-Israel point of view. He was anti-Israel. Now he says he’s pro-Israel. We have a right to judge him both on what he said in the past, what he’s said now and what he will say mostly in the future. That’s what I’m most concerned about.”
Where communal leaders worry about Israel being used a “wedge issue,” Dershowitz sees some value in that prospect.
“I think we’re a divided Jewish community and I think that’s a good thing. We should be divided. If we were not divided over the Rev. Warnock, we would be asleep at the wheel,” Dershowitz said. “If you’re a liberal Democrat who doesn’t care much about Israel, of course you vote for him. There’s no doubt about it. If you’re a conservative Republican who cares deeply about Israel, of course you vote against Warnock. But if you’re a deeply liberal person who cares deeply about Israel, you should be divided. And the Jewish community should be divided. . . . This candidacy hasn’t created divisions. It has only revealed existing divisions, and I think that’s a healthy thing for the Jewish community.”
His advice for Jewish voters in Georgia? “Everybody ought to make up their own mind without regard to partisan considerations. Look hard at the issue and make your decision as to whether this is the man you want to be representing you in the United States Senate,” he said.
On another timely subject, Dershowitz — who was a member of President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team — said that Trump has not sought his advice post-election. While Trump is not obligated to concede the election, “What he should do is acknowledge that the president-elect is Joe Biden. He should attend the inauguration. He should participate in a peaceful transfer. He should encourage all the agencies to work on transitions,” Dershowitz said.