How “Pro-Israel” orthodoxy keeps US foreign policymaking White

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Raphael Warnock addresses supporters during a rally with Jon Ossoff in Atlanta, GA, December 14th, 2020. (photo: AP Photo / Ben Gray)
Raphael Warnock is the latest example of being criticized for sympathizing with the Palestinian cause and then pulling back to moderate his position.

By Peter Beinart |  Jewish Currents  | Dec 22, 2020

Year after year, decade after decade, these attacks have forced Black politicians to either mute their sympathy for Palestinians or risk losing a seat at the table. In this way, the Israel debate has helped keep American foreign policymaking disproportionately white.

In October, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who is seeking re-election in Georgia, released an ad called “Birds of Prey” attacking her Democratic opponent, Raphael Warnock. The title refers to a sermon Warnock gave during protests in the Gaza Strip in 2018, in which he accused the Israeli government of shooting “unarmed Palestinian sisters and brothers like birds of prey.” In a statement accompanying the ad, Loeffler called Warnock “the most anti-Israel candidate anywhere in the country.” The next month, she unveiled a new commercial, which again denounced Warnock as “anti-Israel.” When the two candidates debated in December, she accused him of having “called Israel an apartheid state.”

Black politicians often face such accusations. In June, the Republican Jewish Coalition accused Jamaal Bowman, who ousted longtime incumbent Eliot Engel in New York’s 16th Congressional District, of supporting “anti-Israel policies.” In April, the right-wing Jewish newspaper The Algemeiner alleged that California Rep. Barbara Lee had “a clear anti-Israel voting record.” Last year, Republican congressional leaders demanded that Rep. Ilhan Omar be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee for her “anti-Israel statements.” In 2018, Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis called his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, “anti-Israel.” And in 2017, the American Jewish Congress sent letters to members of the Democratic National Committee warning that if they chose Congressman Keith Ellison as the party’s chair, it “could threaten the relationship between America and our ally Israel.”

Not all Black politicians run afoul of “pro-Israel” orthodoxy. But they do so more frequently than their white counterparts. For nearly half a century, Black politicians who draw on their own experiences to support nationalist and anti-imperialist movements in the developing world have been accused of anti-Americanism. And in a political culture where Israel is seen as embodying the same values as the United States, Black support for the Palestinian cause has often been deemed anti-American too. Year after year, decade after decade, these attacks have forced Black politicians to either mute their sympathy for Palestinians or risk losing a seat at the table. In this way, the Israel debate has helped keep American foreign policymaking disproportionately white.

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