I write from my home in Israel but like so many in the world, my attention has been drawn to the Senate runoffs in Georgia. I am following with particular interest the candidacy of Senior Pastor Raphael Warnock. The charges that he is not fully supportive of Israel prompts me to think back on my time in Atlanta as representative of the State of Israel.
In 1990, I became the consul general of Israel to the American Southeast. One reason for my appointment was my intensive work years earlier with the black leadership of South Africa and the African National Congress, while it was still considered an illegal organization.
When I arrived in Atlanta, most Israelis believed that African Americans were antagonistic towards Israel. One reason for this image was due to the fact that the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Andrew Young had met with the PLO. The Israeli government believed that my extensive dealings with the ANC would be well-received by the African American community and help me address the negative attitudes towards Israel. However, as often happens, the reality I experienced on the ground in Atlanta when I arrived during the summer of 1990 was quite different from what I had expected.
With the assistance of leaders in the Atlanta Jewish community, doors to the African American community were quickly opened. Then, to my surprise, I discovered the Black leadership and the leadership at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in particular, to be very supportive. It started with Ambassador Andrew Young himself, the leading “adversary of Israel” as he was described in the briefings I have received before my arrival to Atlanta. When I met him, I found a gentle, open-minded, charismatic leader who supported Israel and fully understood its political and security challenges. Ambassador Young helped pave the way to my meeting and befriending other Black leaders, including the late Coretta Scott King and Congressman John Lewis. The Black leadership was very supportive when we brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel during “Operation Solomon.” The King Center was even kind enough to sponsor and host an exhibit about this amazing and inspiring story that attracted thousands of visitors.
I thought about all these personal experiences when I learned about the clearly well-coordinated attacks on Reverend Warnock, Ebenezer’s senior pastor. They echo the unfounded anti-Israel accusations against Black leaders that I heard 30 years ago. I never had the pleasure of meeting Pastor Warnock personally, but I’ve followed his career closely and been briefed in great detail by Israeli diplomats who served in Atlanta more recently and who have known him well. Without exception, they describe him as a true friend of Israel and the Atlanta Jewish community. While times have changed and his style may be different, I have no doubt that when it comes to Israel, Reverend Warnock’s support is rock solid, just like the Atlanta Black leaders who preceded him.
I served as Israel’s consul general to the Southeast from 1990 to 1992 and later as ambassador to several countries and as director general of Israel’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Ambassador (ret.) Alon Liel, Israel