Kentucky Republicans have become embroiled in numerous antisemitism controversies in recent days, while a Democratic candidate for Senate in Louisiana has drawn condemnation for praising the antisemitic hate preacher, Louis Farrakhan.
In Kentucky, a Republican lawmaker has sparked outrage after claiming that a pill used to induce abortion was developed during WWII under the name Zyklon B, which was the gas used to eterminate Jews during the Holocaust. He reportedly added that the man “who developed [the pills] was a Jew” and that they were created “because [Jewish people are] making money on it.” Representative Danny Bentley then went into a discussion of the intimate lives of Jewish women, “since we brought up the Hebrew family today.” Although the pill was indeed developed by a Jewish pharmacist, that was in the 1980s and had no connection at all to the Holocaust.
Mr Bentley later apologised, saying: “Last week we received a heartbreakingly sad reminder that antisemitism still exists in our society and I apologise if my comments today caused similar pain or any doubt that I stand with the Jewish community against hatred.” He added: “My intention was to speak as a pharmacist to the history of RU-486 and respond to a proposed amendment. I clearly should have been more sensitive with my comments.”
The controversy came shortly after a pair of Republican lawmakers, also in Kentucky, apologised for using an overtly antisemitic term during another recent legislative committee meeting.
Representative Walker Thomas used the phrase “Jew them down” during a discussion over the price of leases in an area devastated by tornadoes, while Senator Rick Girdler repeated it, but immediately withdrew it. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Mr Thomas asked if the state could “Jew them down on the price,” while Mr Girdler, who co-chairs the committee, repeated Mr Thomas’ question before quickly correcting himself, according to the report.
The news outlet later reported that both lawmakers apologised for using the phrase, which is redolent of the antisemitic trope that Jewish people are cunning and miserly.
“I sincerely regret using that term,” said Mr Thomas, noting that “this is not who I am” nor “what my faith leads me to be.” It was, he said, “a phrase I have heard throughout my life, but this experience has provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the impact that words have and the fact that we must be smarter today than we were yesterday.”
The outlet reported that Mr Girdler said that he was sorry if he “had offended anyone,” and had no “hate or malice” in his heart for anyone in the Jewish community.
While apologies were welcome, said Melanie Maron Pell, from the local office of the American Jewish Committee, there were many words and phrases to use “without succumbing to derogatory references” to Jews. An elected official “wilfully using” such a phrase, she said, was “contributing to the spread of a classic antisemitic trope.” Ms Pell added that “elected officials must be among the first to recognise the harm” such “derogatory terms can cause, especially when antisemitism is on the rise in the United States.”
Meanwhile, it has emerged that a Democratic candidate in Louisiana, who is challenging incumbent Republican Senator John Neely Kennedy, appeared on Louis Farrakhan’s spokesperson’s podcast in 2020, lavishing praise on Mr Farrakhan, who is the leader of the controversial Nation of Islam, and describing himself as a “long-time supporter” of the antisemitic hate preacher.
Gary Chambers Jr, the local activist running for Senate, appeared on Dr Ava Muhammad’s podcast. Dr Muhammed is reportedly the national spokesperson for Mr Farrakhan, who has compared Jews to termites and called them “wicked”.