Groucho Marx once famously quipped, “If you’ve heard this story before, don’t stop me, because I’d like to hear it again.”

Reverend Raphael Warnock—senior pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (where MLK Jr. and Sr. served as co-pastors) and Democratic candidate for Senate—seems to have adopted Groucho’s joke as a personal mantra: like Yasser Arafat, Ilhan Omar, Linda Sarsour, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, The New York Times, and many others before him, Warnock has attempted to rewrite history, claiming that Jesus of Nazareth was “Palestinian.”

Even as one election-related controversy after another erupted through November, the Georgia Senate races proved to be some of the most incendiary of the entire election season. Among the many hot-button issues in the run-off race between Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler and Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock, resurfaced footage of Warnock’s past anti-Israel sermons stands out.

Recent backlash against his remarks has prompted Warnock to try rebranding himself as a staunch Israel ally; and for some, his image makeover has apparently been convincing.

The problem? None of Warnock’s anti-Israel remarks are one-offs. Falsehoods he has spread about Israel should be viewed in context; and thus understood as frank manifestations of deeply-held beliefs, nourished by pre-existing relationships with Christian Liberation Theology and anti-Zionists.

In clips of his church preaching, Warnock is shown repeating a myth long favored by anti-Israel bigots: that the historical Jesus was ethnically “Palestinian”. Moreover, Warnock made this claim in service of advancing a political agenda—which he then conflated with authentic Christianity.

In one video, Warnock cited (what he claimed to be) the Pope’s words on Marxists, and then went on to refer to Jesus as “that poor Palestinian prophet…”:

“And, I love this Pope. He said, ‘Well, I’m not a Marxist, but I know a few Marxists and they’re pretty good people. So hard to discover, and to hear an authentic vision and voice, of authentic spirituality that gives voice to the least of these and when it shows up people describe it as some strange ideology rather than the vision of that poor Palestinian prophet who said that the spirit of the Lord is on me because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…”

In another, (this one appears to be from 2014, after Trayvon Martin was killed) Warnock decried elected officials who enacted the ‘Stand Your Ground’ firearms law, and labeled Jesus “that Palestinian peasant…”:

No, it’s not a stand your ground law, it’s a shoot first law. Shoot first, ask questions later…[But] perfect love casts out fear! And how is it that we have elected officials who say that they are Christian, that they go and they listen to somebody preach every Sunday morning—I wonder, what are they preaching?—Do they know the Christ? Do they know that Palestinian peasant who said, ‘He who lives by the sword will die by the sword?’

The “Palestinian-Jesus” canard has been thoroughly debunked. But, as David Parsons wrote in July 2019, it

…has been a core part of the lexicon of Palestinian nationalism since at least the 1960s, as evidenced by news archive photos of a press conference held by PLO chief Yasser Arafat in Amman in June 1970. Over his shoulder hangs a poster of a gaunt, near-naked Palestinian nailed to a Star of David. The message is clear: the Palestinians are suffering at the hands of the Jews, just like Jesus did.

So, the motif still holds water with many who are determined to interpret the world through a narrow ‘intersectional’ paradigm: ‘White/ Colonialist/ Wealthy Capitalist/ (and often Jewish or Christian) Oppressor versus Brown/ Colonized/ Indigenous/ Poor Worker/ Oppressed’.

Indeed, in a third resurfaced clip of his preaching (this one from 2018), Warnock trumpeted,

We need Pentecost in a week like this. The world is all messed up…I’m out here fighting, I’m out here struggling, I’m out here trying to do what God has called me to do…It’s been a tough week. The administration opened up the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Standing there: the president’s family and a few mealy-mouthed evangelical preachers who are responsible for the mess that we found ourselves in, both there and here—misquoting and misinterpreting the Scripture, talking about peace.

Meanwhile, young Palestinian sisters and brothers, who are struggling for their very lives, struggling for water and struggling for their human dignity stood up in a non-violent protest, saying, ‘If we’re going to die, we’re going to die struggling.’ And yes, there may have been some folk who were violent, but we oughta know how that works out. We know what it’s like to stand up and have a peaceful demonstration and have the media focus on a few violent uprisings. But you have to look at those Palestinian sisters and brothers, who are struggling for their human dignity and they have a right to self-determination, they have a right to breathe free…

[This week,] 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! We need a Pentecostal moment!

You can see the whole sermon below.

Given all this, Warnock’s recent boilerplate “two-state solution” platitudes are not enough to convince me that he isn’t simply pandering to secure Georgia’s Jewish vote.

Samantha Mandeles is Senior Researcher and Outreach Director at the Legal Insurrection Foundation.


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