Jewish activists fired up as control of Senate hinges on Georgia runoffs

Biden is currently leading by 14,000 votes, pending recount.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump (photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE AND CARLOS BARRIA)
Joe Biden and Donald Trump
WASHINGTON – Georgia is on everyone’s mind these days. The presidential election is behind us, but the control of the Senate hinges on a couple of runoffs in the Peach State after no candidate crossed the 50% threshold on November 3.
The Republicans hold 50 seats and the Democrats 48. If Democrats win both seats, Kamala Harris, as vice president, would cast a tie-breaking vote. If Republicans win at least one of the two races, they would secure a majority in the chamber during President-elect Joe Biden’s first two years in office, blocking many items on his legislative agenda.
In the first race, incumbent Kelly Loeffler (Republican) is facing Rev. Raphael Warnock. In the other race, incumbent David Perdue (Republican) is facing Jon Ossoff.
In the presidential election, Biden is currently leading by 14,000 votes, pending recount. But in the Senate race, Perdue led Ossoff in the first round by 85,000 votes.
This could indicate that some voters decided to split their ticket, voting for Biden for president and for Republicans for the Senate. If that’s the case, it means Georgia is a “purple state,” and Democrats could anticipate an uphill battle to win these Senate seats.
And with small margins between the candidates, the Jewish vote could have an impact. There are about 120,000 Jews in the state of Georgia, Dave Schechter, a veteran journalist who covers the Jewish community in Georgia, told The Jerusalem Post. He said the majority of voters live in the Atlanta area, with a small concentration in Savannah.
“American Jews vote in a much higher percentage of the population in general,” Schechter said. “So even in a general election, if 80% of the Jews are voting or more, there are places in the United States where they can have a great impact. In a runoff election, the voter percentage, in general, tends to go down. People tend to be less interested in voting in a runoff. It will be interesting to see what the voter turnout is like for this runoff because this runoff is quite different than anything that’s been experienced here before.”
He added that the Jewish population could have an outsized impact. “When it comes to elections, Jews punch over their weight,” Schechter noted. “They may not be a big percentage, but their percentage in terms of voting makes them, particularly in a runoff – where you may have a lower turnout – can make them a critical constituency.”
He predicted that the upcoming eight weeks are going to be contentious for the community.
“I am personally concerned that despite the best efforts of people on both sides, Israel is going to become a wedge issue for Jews,” Schechter said. “Voters will have to do their homework. Because they’re going to hear things from both sides.”
According to a report in Jewish Insider, Warnock signed his name last year to a statement likening Israeli control of the West Bank to “previous oppressive regimes” such as “apartheid South Africa” and suggesting that “ever-present physical walls that wall in Palestinians” are “reminiscent of the Berlin Wall.”
Another story in JI indicated that in 2018, Warnock accused Israel of shooting nonviolent Palestinian protesters.
Loeffler slammed Warnock on Twitter and said he has “a long history of anti-Israel extremism.” Warnock responded by issuing a statement saying he stands with Israel. “Without reservation, you can count on me to stand with the Jewish community and Israel in the US Senate.”
When it comes to the Jewish community, the Republicans will try to siphon off Jewish votes that might be concerned about things they are told about Warnock, said Schechter.
Chuck Berk, co-chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition of Atlanta, said support for Israel is a crucial issue for the community. “When you have somebody who’s running for the Senate who makes comments about how oppressive the Israelis are and talks about things like the Israeli government has shot down unarmed Palestinians, how do you vote for a guy like that?”
He anticipated a high turnout. “I think people understand how important these two races are on both sides. I know that I’ve never been contacted by so many people saying, ‘Hey, what can I do to help? Who can I call? What can I do?’ So that’s very encouraging to hear.
“People seem very energized because they know that we’ve got two very good candidates and they’re very fearful of both of the candidates on the other side, as well as what would happen if the Republicans don’t maintain control of the Senate.”
Michael Rosenzweig, head of the Jewish Democratic Council of America Georgia’s Chapter, said there is so much at stake in the Senate races.
“One of the things that we’re saying to the Jewish voters in Georgia is – it’s great that we elected Biden. That was a major victory, not to be diminished at all, but we have to finish the job if we really want to move the agenda of the country from Trump and Trumpism. And we need to give Democrats control of the Senate,” Rosenzweig said.
He noted that in at least five states, including Georgia, the Jewish vote for Biden was more than his margin of victory.
“So we’re going to be doing targeted digital advertising. We target voters wherever they are online. We’re making new ads for the runoff election. We are also doing phone banking and texting and it’s going to target voters using their cellphone numbers.”
Rosenzweig also responded to the Republicans’ criticism of Warnock.
“Those attacks are disingenuous and dishonest because Warnock has a long record and close relationship with the Jewish community here in Atlanta. He’s done a lot of interfaith work, and he is considered to be a staunch ally of the Jewish community,” he said. “His position on Israel is very clear: he favors a two-state solution, he is opposed to BDS. He favors the continuation of military aid, and he is categorically against condition aid to Israel. So we are making it clear that his positions on Israel are absolutely to be trusted.”
Democrats, on the other hand, criticized Perdue earlier this summer, after one of his campaign ads enlarged the nose of his opponent, Ossoff, who is Jewish.
“This is the oldest, most obvious, least original antisemitic trope in history,” Ossoff said in July. “Senator, literally no one believes your excuses.”
Matt Brooks, the executive director for the RJC, told the Post: “My comment is the same as Sen. Perdue’s. It was unacceptable. It was a mistake by a vendor, the campaign immediately pulled it down and apologized.
“Just like the Jewish Democrats tried to portray Donald Trump as being an antisemite, a racist, and somebody who supported white supremacist neo-Nazis, and we got a record high Jewish vote because the Jewish community saw through that,” he said. “And they’ll see through any allegations of David Perdue somehow being soft on antisemitism.”
Brooks said he is optimistic that a significant share of the Jewish vote would favor the Republican candidates.
“There is no doubt that if you compare the Jewish community and places like Los Angeles or the Upper West Side, Upper East Side of New York, to that community, whether it’s in Atlanta or Savannah or other places in Georgia, it’s fundamentally more conservative,” he said. “And I think we have a good opportunity to get a lot of Jewish votes down there and it will be a tight and important race, especially given the very troubling comments and positions by Rev. Warnock.”
Halie Soifer, executive director for JDCA, said Jewish Democrats are fired up, too.
“In the lead up to the general election, JDCA contacted 86,000 Jewish Democratic and independent voters through digital ads, phone and text banking, and will do so again in advance of the Senate runoffs in support of Jon Ossoff and Rev. Warnock.”
“In addition to phone and text banking, we plan to mobilize volunteers for door to door canvassing, taking appropriate safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID,” she said. “Jewish voters know what’s at stake with these runoff elections. We are confident that Jewish voters will turn out in high numbers again in these critical elections that will determine control of the Senate. We will spend at least half a million dollars in Georgia in the runoff elections.”
“Once the Georgia secretary of state releases the files on who cast a ballot, we expect to see a high turnout among Jewish voters,” Soifer added. “According to the data we have, we know that 85% of Jewish Democratic voters in Georgia submitted mail-in ballots or voted early in-person.”