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George Santos now has a Jewish challenger who fled Iran to escape persecution

Anna Kaplan, a former state senator, filed paperwork to challenge Santos in 2024

Anna Kaplan, a former Democratic state senator from Nassau County, filed papers Monday to challenge scandal-plagued Republican Rep. George Santos next year. The Jewish former state senator, who fled persecution in Iran as a girl, presents herself as a stark contrast to the incumbent, who has lied about his grandparents fleeing anti-Jewish persecution during World War II.

Santos recently announced his reelection bid despite congressional and federal investigations into a variety of allegations concerning campaign finance issues, a sexual misconduct accusation and other potential improprieties. Kaplan joins several Democrats who have already launched campaigns for Santos’ seat, which was last held by a Democrat in 2020.

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Born Anna Monahemi in the city of Tabriz, Kaplan’s parents sent her to the U.S. for safety when she was 13, during the Iranian Revolution. After arriving in Brooklyn as part of an international effort to protect Iranian Jewish children, she lived with a foster family in Chicago and learned English. The U.S. government granted her political asylum.

Kaplan, now 57, settled in Great Neck, on Long Island, New York, and In 2018, became the highest ranking Persian-Jewish elected official in the state. She had previously served on the North Hempstead town board. 

In office, she spoke often against antisemitism and other bigotry, and introduced successful legislation to ban the display of symbols of hate on public property. Gov. Kathy Hochul recently signed a bill she sponsored that would ensure schools provide high-quality Holocaust education. Kaplan also sponsored a measure that would prohibit the state from contracting with companies supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

After serving two terms, she lost her reelection bid in last year’s midterms. 

This is not Kaplan’s first race for the U.S. House. In 2016 she ran for a seat held by Rep. Steve Israel after he announced his retirement, but came in fourth place in the Democratic primary,  losing to former Rep. Tom Suozzi, who retired last year.

A growing list of challengers 

In December, after Santos came under scrutiny for lying, Kaplan joined hundreds of constituents at a rally outside the Nassau County courthouse calling for his resignation. Jews “are owed an apology for his reprehensible lies about his nonexistent Jewish faith and his complete false connection to the Holocaust,” Kaplan said at the protest.

Santos repeatedly referred to his Jewish ancestry during last year’s campaign, calling himself a “Latino Jew” and “halachically Jewish.” He claimed his grandparents fled anti-Jewish persecution in Ukraine and then Belgium during World War II. But a Forward review of genealogy websites showed that both of his maternal grandparents were born in Brazil before the Nazis rose to power. In February, Santos called his references to being “Jew-ish” a “party favor joke” and suggested that his grandparents falsified documents when they arrived in Brazil to show that they had been born there. 

Last month, Santos told two Hasidic writers who visited his Washington, D.C., office that recent genetic testing shows he has a significant percentage of Jewish ancestry.

A January poll showed 94% of Jewish voters in New York’s 3rd Congressional District wanted Santos to resign from Congress. Jews make up 11% of the district’s population, according to David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

Several other candidates have already launched challenges for the seat, which also includes parts of the borough of Queens, in New York City. Joshua Lafazan, a Jewish Nassau County legislator who ran in last year’s Democratic primary, has launched a bid and already tussled with Santos on Twitter. Another candidate is Will Murphy, an attorney from Farmingdale, New York. Some who follow New York politics closely predict that Robert Zimmerman, the Jewish Democrat who lost to Santos by almost 8 points in November, will also run. Santos is also expected to face a Republican primary challenger. 

Kaplan first raised the possibility of running in January, telling a reporter for Jewish Insider that she was “outraged and disgusted by the insane lies that George Santos” has told the Jewish community, and would like the chance to “represent this community with honor and distinction.” 

Representatives for Santos and Kaplan did not immediately return requests for comment.

Editor’s note: Updated with specifics and links related to government investigations.

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