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GOP campaign mailer accused of depicting anti-Semitic imagery

GOP campaign mailer accused of depicting anti-Semitic imagery
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A GOP state Senate candidate in Connecticut is facing allegations of anti-Semitism after his campaign sent out a mailer depicting his Democratic opponent, who is Jewish, holding fistfuls of cash, according to local newspaper The Hartford Courant

Republican Ed Charamut's campaign sent out the mailer targeting his Democratic opponent, longtime state Rep. Matthew Lesser, this week. In the image, Lesser is depicted holding $100 bills to his face with a wide grin.

"VOTE NO ON MATT LESSER," the flyer reads. 

The mailer went out days after a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue left 11 congregants dead and six others injured, an event that has been dubbed the deadliest attack on American Jews in U.S. history.  

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Charamut's campaign initially stood behind its mailer, despite drawing widespread condemnation, including from the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League. 

"Those wishing to portray a graphic illustration as something hateful are completely wrong," Charamut wrote in a statement to The Hill. "I reject hate speech in all its forms."

"Once again, Matt Lesser is using the Democrat playbook of identity politics to hide from his record," Charamut continued. "The mailer makes the point that if elected, Matt Lesser will undoubtedly vote to hike people's taxes again and again." 

Charamut in a statement to The Hill on Wednesday, walked back his support of the mailer, apologizing to Lesser and the Jewish community.

"It is clear now that the imagery could be interpreted as anti-Semitic, and for that we deeply apologize as hate speech of any kind does not belong in our society and especially not in our politics," Charamut wrote. 

"Up until election day, we will continue to focus on the issues and it is our sincere hope that people will understand that we in no way ever intended for the mailer to be about Mr. Lesser’s religious background," he added.

The controversy over the mailer was first reported by local newspaper The Hartford Courant

“It’s imagery used to depict Jewish people going back hundreds of years,” Lesser told the Courant. “Whether that was intentional or not I can’t say. That’s not what our community is about." 

Lesser noted that he attended a vigil for those who were killed in Pittsburgh in Saturday's shooting. 

"It’s demoralizing to see the campaign go in this direction," he said.

Steve Ginsburg, the regional director of Connecticut's Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told the Courant that the flyer evokes age-old Jewish stereotypes linking "a Jewish candidate for office and money." 

“We can’t and don’t know the motivate of the producer of the flier, but we do know its impact and they should clarify what they meant," Ginsburg said.

The national ADL, which tracks anti-semitic activity across the country, found that there was a 57 percent uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017. 

"We’ve continued to see a persistent increase and very troubling patterns and trends in anti-Semitic incidents both online and real world across the country over the past decade," George Selim, senior vice president of programs at the ADL, told The Hill in an interview following the Pittsburgh shooting. 

-- Updated Oct. 31, 3:30 p.m.