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Dougherty Commission candidate's online posts criticizing Israel sparks reaction | POLL

Patrick Garner accuses Israel of 'ethnic cleansing' in an online discussion

Darton State College English professor Patrick Garner said he did not see how his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict applied to the contest to represent District 4 on the Dougherty County Commission. (File photo)

Darton State College English professor Patrick Garner said he did not see how his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict applied to the contest to represent District 4 on the Dougherty County Commission. (File photo)

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Dougherty County Commissioner Ewell Lyle said residents brough his challenger’s Facebook comments to his attention, but he has not read them. (File photo)

ALBANY — The general election is still almost three months away, but the first salvo in what is shaping up to be an interesting Dougherty County Commission race was fired Monday over comments made by the challenger for the District 4 commission seat.

Democrat Patrick Garner, engaged in an online exchange about the ongoing hostilities in the Middle East, disturbed a number of posters by referring to Israel’s actions against Hamas as “ethnic cleansing” and suggesting the United States should use “economic boycotts and divestment to convince Israel to end apartheid and stop state sponsored terrorism.”

County Commissioner Ewell Lyle, who is being challenged by Garner, a Darton State College professor, said Monday he’d been notified of his opponent’s comments by concerned residents in the community.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t personally seen the comments,” Lyle said. “I’m not a big Facebook person. But I’ve been contacted by citizens who told me they think the public needs to be aware of the comments (Garner) is making. I’ve heard other things about him, but this is the first I’ve heard of anti-Semitic remarks.”

Lyle, who retired after a career with the state Department of Natural Resources, said he’s been contacted by other constituents concerned about Garner.

“I’ve gotten calls from Darton students who said they dropped his classes because he is so out there,” the Republican commissioner said. “From what I hear, that’s not unusual. What I’m hearing from people who’ve contacted me is that Garner is the most arrogant guy they’ve ever come across, and they’re concerned that the public doesn’t seem to be aware of that aspect of his personality.”

During a break from Darton registration duties Monday, Garner said he was simply engaged in one of hundreds of online debates he takes part in on any number of topics. He said he did not see how his comments impact the commission race.

“I just found out there are people who are taking exception to the comments I made,” Garner said. “This is not something I’m fixated on; as a college professor, I get into hundreds of debates on all kinds of topics, from pop culture to international politics. I don’t want to feel like I can’t have an honest conversation without looking over my shoulder or worrying about every word I’ve said.

“My position on Palestine and the Middle East has nothing whatsoever to do with the Dougherty County Commission. If I were running for the Senate, yes. But international politics has nothing to do with the Dougherty Commission. I guess if I had no record to run on, I might be looking for something to dig up about my opponent, too.”

In an exchange with a fellow Darton professor, Garner posted comments such as: “What Israel is doing is not self defense, it’s ethnic cleansing.” and “The conversation should not go in the direction of how Israel can defend itself but rather the right of Palestinians to defend themselves and what we can be doing through economic boycotts and divestment to convince Israel to end apartheid and stop state sponsored terrorism”.

Doug Lorber, who is president of the local Jewish congregation, offered a history lesson Monday in response to Garner’s comments.

“I take comments like that on a personal level, having lived (in Israel) for six years from right after the Six-Day War to the Yom Kippur War,” Lorber said. “There’s a Facebook video that best shows how it’s easy to explain but impossible to solve the unrest there: ‘The Jewish state wants to live in peace, and those around them — the extremists of Hamas — want to destroy Israel.’

“What Israel wants to do is exist peacefully. What the people of Palestine want is to exist peacefully. But the extremists in Hamas want to destroy Israel. It’s been said: If Hamas lays down its weapons, there will be peace. If Israel lays down its weapons, there will be bloodshed and destruction.”

Lorber would not comment specifically on Garner’s postings.

“Everyone is allowed to have their opinion,” he said. “Mine is that Israel simply wants to exist in peace. What’s happening now is not genocide. If Palestine allows Hamas to rule its land, there will never be peace. Hamas loves to die more than Israelis love to live.”

A local Army veteran who read Garner’s comments took exception, declaring in an email to The Albany Herald: “As a proud Democrat and veteran of the United States Army, I find the statements reprehensible and an open advocation of terrorism due to (Garner’s) subtle endorsement of Hamas.”

Garner defeated challenger Tracy Taylor in the District 4 Democratic primary on May 20, earning just under 65 percent of the vote. That victory set up the Nov. 4 general election showdown with Lyle, who is in the final year of his first four-year term on the commission. Lyle ran unopposed for the District 4 seat in 2012 and had no challenger in the May Republican primary.