GOP mailer in the 165th decried as anti-Semitic – The Delaware County Daily Times

Posted By on October 25, 2020

*Story updates below*

Some members of the local Jewish community are raising concerns over what they say is an anti-Semitic political mailer targeting state Rep. Jennifer OMara, D-165 of Springfield.

Its not just something I was uncomfortable with, said Rabbi Peter Rigler of Temple Sholom in Broomall. I had seven congregants reach out to me and actually bring the postcard to my office, and I also heard from people in the community who called me to say, Rabbi, what do you think of this?

The mailer, put out by the Pennsylvania Republican Party, features two pictures of OMara in an attempt to depict her as having two personas: Hometown Jenn and Harrisburg Jenn. The former is smiling with hair down in front of some foliage, while the latter looks more severe, her hair pulled back as she speaks into a microphone in front of a backdrop that includes a stylized Star of David. The second image also appears on the back of the mailer, much more deeply shadowed, with more six-pointed stars and a large red NO at the bottom.

Its a deeply concerning image and I believe it was used on purpose, said Rigler. Were living in a moment when the Jewish community, along with many others, are feeling the effects of racism and anti-Semitism, and for the Republican Party to put that out, and then for them not to respond when a rabbi from Delaware County writes and says its a concerning image, and its a hurtful image it was an opportunity for them to call and say, Wow, were really sorry.

But Rigler said that response did not happen. He said he also raised the issue with O'Mara's Republican opponent, Bob Smythe, about two weeks ago. Rigler said Smythe, who did not approve of or send out the mailer himself, was sympathetic about the imagery during their conversation and told the rabbi he would make a statement, but that never happened either.

Their silence says to me that they understand what the message is and they dont care, said Rigler. Its Hometown Jenn and Away Jenn, and its like Away Jenn is the Jewish Jenn who is secretly part of the Jewish cabal to take over. Its really troubling.

Rigler noted the mailer comes after a white nationalist group called Identity Evropa reportedly met at a Delco bowling alley last year and a 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh left 11 dead. It also comes just weeks after Rigler said three large, hand-painted anti-Semitic signs appeared on a local property.

As a rabbi and as a student of Jewish history, I can tell you that these types of sordid machinations, these types of conspiracy theories, they never work out well for the Jewish community, said Rigler. It elevates the fear of the Jewish community who believes very much that we are a part of the fabric of American society and this is a disturbing moment. Obviously, given our history, its extremely disturbing.

In speaking with our design vendor, the picture was chosen from the public domain because it was the only one found that featured Ms. OMara speaking at a podium with the word Democrat visible behind her, to demonstrate a political contrast, said PAGOP Executive Director Vonne Andring in a statement. We have tremendous respect for the Jewish faith and all faiths, and we sincerely apologize for any unintended offense this mail piece has caused.

I assume that there are many images a designer could choose of a state rep. in Harrisburg, said Shira Goodman, regional director of Anti-Defamation League of Philadelphia. Why not a picture of her in the rotunda? Why not a picture of her at a press conference on the steps of the capital or something like that if youre trying to show that distinction? My assumption would be that even for a first-term rep., there are many, many pictures in Harrisburg that could have been chosen. Choosing this image it raises questions to me. Im just not sure why you do this unless youre trying to show some kind of association or make viewers see some sort of connection.

Goodman said she had also reached out to state Republican Party representatives but had not gotten a response.

The party reps told us they were going to look into it, tell us what happened, and they did not, she said.

I know from campaign mail how they choose photos, said OMara. There is nothing that is not intentional.

OMara said the picture was not actually taken in Harrisburg, but was at an event for Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania in Delaware County in late 2018, before she was sworn into office. The word Democratic is mostly obscured by OMaras head in the image.

They could have used a lot of photos where Im in Harrisburg, speaking in press conferences, even standing with other elected officials, said OMara. I feel like it was intentional and there is no room for this in our local politics.

OMara and Rigler said they had both been contacted not just by upset Democrats, but Republicans as well, indicating it is not a partisan issue. Rigler said in his conversation with Smythe, he put the ball in his court, asking him to come up with a statement or apology and get back to him.

I was disappointed that Bob Smythe did not get back to me, said Rigler. He explained that hes a history teacher and he sees it and he gets it, and I explained to him that I understood it was not his campaign that sent it out, but I also said that, to me, it was a party that hes a part of and it represented his campaign, whether he wanted it to or not, and it was important to say something. He should say something. Its getting to the point where its too late and I really would like them to say something.

In a statement issued Thursday, Smythe said the mailers intended purpose was to demonstrate that OMara tells local residents that her position on issues is aligned with their views, but then votes the opposite way in Harrisburg due to pressure from the Democratic Party.

He said the image had come from OMaras own Facebook page and that he explained the true purpose of the piece to Rigler during their discussion, as well as his disdain for anti-Semitism.

As a 10-year classroom history teacher, I have taught many subjects and several hundred students, most of whom come from some of the most economically challenged communities in Delaware County, said Smythe. Having studied the Holocaust extensively as a historian and having taught hundreds of students at both the middle and high school level about the horrors of the Holocaust, I understand the atrocities that were committed as well as the trauma and sensitivity it has caused throughout the Jewish community. I would never engage in any effort to promote anti-Semitism, discrimination, racism, or hate of any kind.

Smythe added that division and slander are often used as a last-ditch effort political strategy, especially this close to an election, but said he would never engage in such tactics and would hope that people judge him based on his record and actions.

Fran Leider, a Jewish Republican from Broomall, said she did not see the imagery as anti-Semitic and is judging Smythe on his character rather than what others read into a piece of mail sent out by the party.

I know Bob is a good guy, I know his characteristics, I know his values and I know that if somebody had a problem with that piece, theyre totally misinterpreting it, she said.

Leider said she discussed the mailer with neighbors and the general consensus was exactly as Smythe described: That OMara says one thing in the district and does another in Harrisburg.

Nobody in the community has a problem with that mailer, said Leider. I did hear one rumor that someone had a problem with it, but it was only one rumor. Most people see that as just a way of showing who Jennifer OMara is and they dont have a problem with it.

But fellow Republican Eric Lieberman, of Broomall, said he was disappointed to see his own party put out literature that he said made negative connections with religious symbols. He pointed to the choice of color pallet and use of the Star of David in what he said was a subtly anti-Semitic tone and message.

Its not in your face, its one of those things where its unspoken, he said.

Lieberman noted Smythe had previously called out George Soros during a town hall as a funder of Democratic Party activities, including those OMara was involved with. Liebermans wife, Andi, said Soros name is often invoked on the right as an anti-Semitic trigger.

So that, combined with this, I was not really happy, said Andi Lieberman. (He does it) one time and you think, OK, hes listening to talking points from those in his party who feel this is OK to react this way but then to get this in the mail a few weeks later, I was pretty upset. I took it as a negative connotation for those of us who are Jewish. So I talked to my rabbi and some others and they all had that same response to the piece of mail.

I was shocked, said Dr. Lisa Goldstein of Radnor. I grew up in Lower Merion, Ive made my family and lived in Radnor for 26 years and I dont recall ever seeing anti-Semitic campaign literature. I was just shocked.

Eric Lieberman said he does not believe the basic platform of his party is anti-Semitic, though he said there are elements within it that are and either might not care that this is being put into the messaging or, even worse, deliberately make it part of the messaging.

I believe its antithetical to what the party should be based on, he said. Theres no reason why an anti-religious message regardless of which religion it relates to should be part of anything in their campaign literature.

Goodman said regardless of the intention, the image does appear to promote or reinforce offensive tropes about Jewish control of the government, and the GOP should address that, apologize and make clear that was not their intention.

Under the best interpretation, its a very busy time for campaigns and parties, and the people they talked to internally perhaps did not see the problem the same way that Rabbi Rigler described it or I described it, she said. Thats the best light. But I think the fact that people are making complaints to both candidates in the race and that its been elevated to the party should let them know that this is serious and it should be taken seriously.

While the ADL understands that campaigns will foster passionate opinions on a broad range of topics, said Goodman, anti-Semitic tropes or stereotypes should not be part of that discourse.

We should hold campaigns or parties to a higher standard, and if they dont meet that standard, their errors should be pointed out and they should take responsibility, she said.

UPDATE:

After publication of this story on Friday, a Smythe spokesperson provided a lengthy letter the Republican candidate said he had written to Rigler last week and outlined steps Smythe took to reach out to the Temple Sholom community, including calling Rigler instantly upon getting his email.

The spokesperson said Rigler called back the following day and declined to meet with Smythe in person, but suggested speaking on the phone. Rigler also declined having Smythe come to the congregation, which is not meeting in person due to the pandemic, or having Smythe attend virtual services, according to the spokesperson. Rigler also told Smythe it would not be possible to meet with or call the people in his community that raised concerns, the spokesperson said.

Rigler on Friday did not dispute that chain of events, though he said some of the language was inconsistent with his experience. He said Smythe had in fact written him a letter, but he only got it Friday morning and that it was postmarked Oct. 20.

He had my email, it was two weeks before he wrote me back, said Rigler. The letter is fine. I dont feel from what he wrote me or what he said to me that he understands its painful. This is not a right/left (issue) the symbols used the way they were are painful.

Rigler said that just as standard form, his temple would not offer a pulpit to any politician in the midst of an election. He added that he did not so much want Smythe to talk to those who had brought the mailer to his attention as those who had not.

His letter was very nice, he seems like a nice guy and I understand, again, it was not from his campaign, said Rigler. But it would be comforting to hear a little bit more than hes a history teacher. I will share the letter with some people he asked to share it with.

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GOP mailer in the 165th decried as anti-Semitic - The Delaware County Daily Times

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