A Connecticut Republican running for a seat in the state Senate has apologized after facing charges of anti-Semitism Tuesday for sending a mailer featuring a close-up of his Jewish opponent clutching a handful of $100 bills.
Ed Charamut, a local business owner battling Democratic state Rep. Matt Lesser for the seat, sent the mailer shortly after an anti-Semitic gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
“Yesterday, our campaign found ourselves in unexpected and uncharted territory,” Charamut said in a statement Wednesday, calling the backlash a “serious unintended consequence.”
The mailer outlines several tax measures the state congressman has supported. Lesser’s image appears under a banner reading “Vote no on Matt Lesser,” whose image is seemingly manipulated to appear dangerously untrustworthy. Critics say it plays into harmful Jewish stereotypes.
The back of the mailer reads “Matt Lesser will take everything you worked for,” with an image of a senior holding a piggy bank away from a man’s outstretched arms.
“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 said. He apologized specifically to Lesser, the Jewish community and “anyone who found the mailer to be anything other then a depiction of policy differences between the two candidates.”
Lesser told the Hartford Courant that he started receiving text messages about the mailer on Monday but did not initially believe it.
“Someone showed it to me and I think it would be a gross understatement to say I was surprised,” Lesser told the paper.
“It’s imagery used to depict Jewish people going back hundreds of years,” the candidate said. “Whether that was intentional or not I can’t say. That’s not what our community is about.”
Lesser noted that he’s heard from local Republicans who are also upset over the Charamut campaign’s decision.
Asked for comment on his critics’ charges, Charamut initially doubled down and accused Lesser of “using the Democrat playbook of identity politics to hide from his record.” The mailer, he said, was only illustrating his belief that his opponent would vote to increase taxes and more government spending.
“I reject hate speech in all its forms,” Charamut said in an initial statement provided to HuffPost. “Those wishing to portray a graphic illustration as something hateful are completely wrong.”
He continued: “The decision is up to the taxpayers of Cromwell, Middletown, Newington, Rocky Hill and Wethersfield. It’s their money.”
The GOP’s Connecticut state chairman, J.R. Romano, similarly told the Courant he doesn’t see a problem with the image and dismissed any backlash as “false outrage.”
A Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Ned Lamont, traced the mailer’s imagery back to comments made by President Donald Trump.
“Hateful rhetoric from the White House has emboldened racists, homophobes, and anti-Semites to drop their dog whistles and express their bigotry clearly and openly,” Lamont said in a statement provided to HuffPost.
“Those hateful words lead to violent acts. There aren’t ‘two sides’ to anti-Semitism, and there aren’t good people on ‘both sides’ of bigotry,’” he added, in reference to Trump stating that there were “very fine people on both sides” of a 2017 white supremacist rally and its counterprotests.
Rising anti-Semitism was thrown into the spotlight over the weekend after a gunman walked into a Pennyslvania synagogue and opened fire, killing 11 adults at a baby-naming ceremony and injuring six others.
Police say the man yelled “All Jews must die” when he arrived. He faces 29 counts from federal prosecutors for what the Department of Justice is considering a hate crime.
This was updated to include further details of the mailer and Ed Charamut’s apology.