Republican Campaign Mailer Faces Accusations Of Anti-Semitism
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The country is mourning the shooting deaths of 11 Jewish people at a Pittsburgh synagogue last weekend. We are also days away from an important midterm election. These two truths collided in Connecticut this week, where voters got a political campaign mailer that some see as overtly anti-Semitic. Connecticut Public Radio's David DesRoches reports.
DAVID DESROCHES, BYLINE: The full-color, double-sided mailer shows an altered image of Democrat Matt Lesser, who is Jewish, with large, shiny eyes, holding fistfuls of $100 bills. On the back of the mailer is the tagline "Matt Lesser Will Take Everything You Worked For." The campaign of Lesser's Republican opponent, Ed Charamut, sent out the mailer. Both men are seeking to take over an open state Senate seat. Lesser says the flyer and the timing of its release are troubling.
MARK LESSER: A new line has been crossed. And in the two days after a horrific attack in Pittsburgh, the last thing we expected was to see something like this in Connecticut.
DESROCHES: He didn't get the mailer but started getting messages from supporters when it landed in their mailboxes. Eventually, Lesser did get his hands on one.
LESSER: I've been in this business for a while. And I'm used to public attacks. And certainly, there have been quite a few this year. To be honest, I was shocked when I saw the mailer. I'd never seen anything quite like it.
DESROCHES: Charamut has not responded to requests for comment. Alan Greenspan is Charamut's campaign treasurer, and he says Lesser's face was digitally altered.
ALAN GREENSPAN: His eyes were altered to look bigger and greedy.
DESROCHES: Was his nose altered at all?
GREENSPAN: I didn't do the artwork. I can't specify for what the artist did.
ANAT BILETZKI: That is a trope that has been used for hundreds of years against Jews anywhere.
DESROCHES: Anat Biletzki is a philosophy and human rights professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.
BILETZKI: These are such automatic things that go with anti-Semitism that it's chilling. It's really very chilling.
DESROCHES: Greenspan, who himself is also Jewish, says there's nothing in the altered image that's anti-Semitic.
GREENSPAN: Matt's not wearing a yarmulke. He's not wearing a Star of David. He's not holding a Torah. There's nothing in this ad that depicts him as Jewish.
DESROCHES: He says the intent was to show Lesser as a greedy politician. But Biletzki says that's not how she sees it.
BILETZKI: Someone can say, yes, we're trying to emphasize a different context. We're showing how greedy bankers or greedy people with money steal the food out of your mouth. You know, you can say that's the context, and then it's a legitimate argument.
DESROCHES: Except in this case...
BILETZKI: Given that 11 people were killed on Saturday for being Jews, given that there is an uprise in anti-Semitism in the past two years like we've never seen, that's the context in which I can much more easily understand it.
DESROCHES: Last year, the Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-Semitic incidents across the United States rose 57 percent over the year before. That was the largest single-year increase since the league began tracking these figures almost four decades ago. Charles Lansing studies the Holocaust and the Third Reich at the University of Connecticut. He says the altered image isn't explicitly anti-Semitic, but he understands how it could be interpreted that way.
CHARLES LANSING: Certainly, the beady eyes that seem to kind of accentuate a kind of big nose and holding the money - it seems conceivable that people have imagined this to be anti-Semitic.
DESROCHES: The Connecticut branch of the Anti-Defamation League is calling on the Charamut campaign to, quote, "clarify its position and intent in disseminating this image." The chairman of the state's Republican Party initially said that it's only Democrats who were raising a stink about the mailer. He later issued a statement calling it offensive. Matt Lesser says at least two local Republican officials have contacted him with concerns, including one who said it resembled something from the Middle Ages.
For NPR News, I'm David DesRoches in Hartford.
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