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5 Jewish facts about Asa Hutchinson, the newest presidential candidate

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Trump critic, became the fifth Republican to jump into the race

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on Sunday he will challenge former President Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Hutchinson, a Trump critic, is a Baptist who presents himself as a wholesome alternative.

“I’m convinced that people want leaders that appeal to the best of America, and not simply appeal to our worst instincts,” Hutchinson said on ABC’s This Week, contrasting himself to Trump. The former president, who has aligned himself with participants in the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol, and is expected to be arraigned Tuesday in a case over hush money sent to a porn star.

Hutchinson, 72, who served two terms as governor of his state, is the fifth Republican to announce a White House bid. He follows Trump, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley; Steve Laffey, the former mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island; and Vivek Ramaswamy, a former tech and finance executive.

Others who are considering but have yet to declare a presidential bid include former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. 

Here are five Jewish facts about Hutchinson:

Hebrew name

Last year, during his weekly radio address as governor, Hutchinson boasted that his first name, Asa, is Hebrew. It is derived from the Old Testament and was popularized by the Puritans in the 17th century. Hutchinson said that he had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Israel Innovation Authority, which had both English and Hebrew copies.

“As I prepared to sign the Hebrew version of the MOU, I suggested that I was going to use my Hebrew name, which brought some laughter,” Hutchinson said.

Combating antisemites

Hutchinson, as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas in the 1980s, successfully prosecuted a white supremacist group known as the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord (CSA). The group set on fire the Beth Shalom Jewish Religious and Community Center in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1983.

Following the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Hutchinson recalled his role in prosecuting such hate groups when they turned violent. “White supremacy has no place in America,” he wrote.

In 2021, after a long battle with state legislators, Hutchinson signed a hate crime law that enhanced penalties for violent crimes targeting members of a specific group.

Celebrating Hanukkah

Though Jews are a small minority in Arkansas — less than 1% of the population is Jewish — their history in the state is deeply rooted, with the first Jewish immigrants from Europe settling in the early 19th century.

Since he was first sworn in as governor in 2015, Hutchinson has attended the menorah-lighting ceremony on the first night of Hanukkah in Little Rock. “Hutchinson lit a large menorah with a small blow torch,” The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette described his participation at the 2021 celebration.

“My friendships within the Arkansas Jewish community have led to many personally enriching opportunities,” Hutchinson said last year.

Holocaust education

Hutchinson signed into law in 2021 a Holocaust education requirement for all public schools.

In his first term, he signed a bill to give Christian florists and bakers the right to refuse service to same-sex couples planning weddings. The measure drew backlash from LGBTQ rights groups. Bart Hester, a Republican state senator who introduced the bill, defended it by invoking Jews: “I wouldn’t ask a Jewish baker to put a Nazi swastika on a cake,” he said. “That wouldn’t be fair either.”

Standing with Israel

Hutchinson visited Israel four times as governor and previously as a member of Congress. In 2021, on a trade mission aimed at strengthening partnerships between Israel’s booming technology and innovation sector, he spoke at the Prime Minister’s Smart Mobility Conference and compared the start-up nation to America’s biggest retailer, Arkansas-based Walmart. 

Hutchinson said in an interview that supporting Israel is “a fundamental part of American culture, history and of the ties that we have between Judaism and Christianity.”

Arkansas is one of 35 states that have passed bills or adopted policies to penalize businesses and organizations who engage in boycotts of Israel. Hutchinson signed the law in 2017. It prohibits state agencies from contracting with companies that participate in the boycott of Israel and reduces their fees by 20% if they don’t sign a pledge to oppose BDS.

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