Ossoff Dodges on Warnock's Praise for Anti-Semitic Pastor

Warnock stood by controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright

Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock / Getty Images
November 19, 2020

ATLANTA, GA — Senate hopeful Jon Ossoff, who has repeatedly referred to himself and fellow Democrat Raphael Warnock as a "team" in Georgia's Senate runoffs, dodged questions on Warnock's longtime support for anti-Semitic pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Ossoff rebuffed multiple questions from the Washington Free Beacon regarding Warnock's past praise of Wright during a Wednesday campaign event in Marietta. Ossoff's campaign also failed to return multiple requests for comment on whether the Democrat considers Wright to be an anti-Semite.

The relationship between the two candidates could hamper Democratic hopes of winning a de facto Senate majority in January. During the same Wednesday event, Ossoff told reporters that he and Warnock are running as a "team," calling the pastor an "inspirational leader." The Democrat also called Warnock a "moral leader for our state and our country" at a Sunday campaign stop in Cobb County.

Warnock has come under fire for his role as a vocal defender of Wright's controversial 2003 "God Damn America" sermon, which likened the United States to al Qaeda and accused American officials of "inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color." Warnock called the oration a "very fine sermon" in 2014.

Wright's infamous speech returned to national prominence during then-presidential candidate Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. Obama—Wright's onetime congregant at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago—quickly rejected the pastor's remarks, saying they "rightly offend all Americans" and "should be denounced." Warnock, however, refused to retract his past support for Wright during a recent MSNBC appearance and evaded a question about whether Wright is an anti-Semite. The Chicago pastor in 2009 blamed "them Jews" for driving a wedge between himself and Obama.

"Them Jews ain't going to let him talk to me," Wright said. "They will not let him talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is."

Ossoff's refusal to address Warnock's support for Wright comes despite the Democrat's pledge to face tough questions. Ossoff on Sunday promised voters that he will always "answer questions in public" and "listen to criticism and scrutiny."

"Isn't that what public service is all about?" Ossoff said.

Ossoff and Warnock are facing Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively, in a pair of January 5 runoff elections that will determine control of the Senate. Loeffler has dinged Warnock for his defense of Wright, calling the Georgia Democrat an enabler of "anti-Semitic, anti-American hate speech."

Warnock has faced criticism for his own controversial sermons as senior pastor of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, including one in which the Democrat said Israel shoots unarmed Palestinians like "birds of prey." Warnock in 2019 signed a letter likening Israel's actions in the West Bank to apartheid in South Africa. He has also preached that Americans can't "serve God and the military" and argued that "America needs to repent for its worship of whiteness" shortly before President Donald Trump's 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton.