Every ‘Jew-ish’ thing George Santos has said and done (that we know about)
The tower of lies built by George Santos is crumbling.
The Republican Congressman-elect for New York’s 3rd Congressional District did not, as he claimed, attend the Horace Mann School, Baruch College or New York University. He didn’t work for Citigroup or Goldman Sachs. He does not own multiple properties, though he does owe thousands of dollars in unpaid rent and other debts.
There’s also no evidence for his Zelig-like claims of connections to tragedies. He claimed four people who died in the 2016 Pulse Night Club shooting in Orlando worked for him. He tweeted that 9/11 “claimed my mother’s life,” though she in fact died in 2016; separately, he said she was a financial executive who was in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and later died of cancer stemming from the buildings’ collapse. Records later showed that his mother was in Brazil on 9/11; The New York Times said she worked as a nurse and a cook there.)
And, as the Forward was the first to report, Santos, who is 34, did not have grandparents who fled anti-Jewish persecution in Europe during World War II. He has repeatedly claimed that his grandfather was born in Ukraine, moved to Belgium where he met his grandmother, then moved to Brazil in 1940 to flee the Nazis. But immigration and genealogical records show that those grandparents were born in Brazil, in 1918 and 1927. Santos does have a Belgian ancestor, a great-grandfather, but he moved to Brazil in 1884 — five years before Hitler’s birth.
As Santos, who first entered public life with a failed bid for the House in 2020, prepares to be sworn in on Tuesday as part of the 118th Congress, federal and local prosecutors have launched investigations into whether his lies constitute any crime. In the meantime, here’s a timeline of everything we know Santos has said and done related to his insistence that he’s Jewish — or, as he put it in a recent interview, “Jew-ish.”
June 2, 2020: Santos responded to a tweet by saying: “Wow, you pulled the Nazi card on the grandson of Holocaust refugees!”
Fall 2020: In a videotaped interview with Newsday, Santos said: “My mother’s family, they’re originally Ukrainian, my great-grandparents, they fled persecution, they were Jewish. And they ended up in Belgium, thinking they were in a safe haven and that proved to be wrong.” Asked if he was still Jewish, he answered: “No, my family, when they fled to Brazil, their fear of persecution yet again … they converted to Roman Catholicism. Although some family members went back when they saw the coast was clear, I grew up Catholic. I know about the heritage. I respect it, but I don’t go around claiming to be Jewish.”
Someone from Newsday then commented, “Listen, in this district, if you can honestly claim you’re both Jewish and Catholic, it’s a huge hand up,” to which Santos responded: “I’m Catholic. I go to Mass. I’m not that guy, I’ll put it that way to you. I don’t want to claim things I’m not.”
June 10, 2021: Santos said in his campaign launch video, “I’ve seen how socialism destroys people’s lives because my grandparents survived the Holocaust.”
Feb. 28, 2022: In an interview on Fox News, he said, “My grandfather was born in Kyiv and left in the late ’20s and migrated to Belgium, where he met my grandmother. It’s very vague and faint. We don’t carry the Ukrainian last name. For a lot of people who are descendants of World War II, refugees or survivors of the Holocaust, a lot of names and paperwork were changed in the name of survival so I don’t carry the family last name. That would have been Zabrovsky. I carry my mother’s maiden name which is Devolder, which is the Dutch side of the family.”
(The name “Zabrovsky” does not appear in Santos family immigration or genealogical records reviewed by the Forward. Santos did use the name Anthony Zabrovsky in 2015 as an alias on a GoFundMe account for a pet rescue effort; The New York Times found the IRS had no record of this charity.)
May 17, 2022: In an interview on The Ari Hoffman Show, Santos declared, “I am a Latino Jew.” He also said Democrats insist that, “If you’re Latino, you must be a Democrat. If you’re gay, you must be a Democrat. And God forbid, if you’re Jewish and you’re Republican, ‘Oh, that is really bad, sir.’ So the reality is everybody can be a Republican. I break all those molds — in that order.”
June 29, 2022: In an interview with Jeremy Ryan Slate, Santos said: “That socialist mentality is something that really spooks me. It captured my attention, you know, my grandparents survived the Holocaust.” He later added: “I’m a good old Catholic, right, but with a Jewish mother. I am half Jewish, half Catholic.”
July 15, 2022: On The Ari Hoffman Show, Santos said: “I’m a Latino Jew, which makes them shake in their pants — because the reality is, I got it all baby. I come from all angles.”
Aug. 3, 2022: At a candidate forum hosted by the Bay Terrace Community Alliance in Queens, Santos said: “I am the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, and the son of a 9/11 survivor.”
Nov. 10, 2022: In an interview with Jewish Insider, he said: “Whether my mother’s Jewish background beliefs, which are mine, or my father’s Roman Catholic beliefs, which are also mine, are represented or not, I want to represent everyone else that practices every other religion to make sure everybody feels like they have a partner in me.”
Referring to the Iranian Jewish community in Great Neck, Long Island, he added: “My friends in the Persian community, they’re fantastic to me. I go to Shabbat with them, I go to temple with them.”
He described himself as a non-observant Jew who had made four visits to Israel that were “the most exciting experiences” of his life. “I’m a partner of Israel,” Santos said. “In foreign policy, I believe Israel is our friend, Israel is our ally, and they’re the only democracy in the Middle East and we need to defend them. They have a right to exist, they have a right to defend themselves, and it is a promise that must be kept to the Jewish people. I will continue to fight and be an ally for them.”
Nov. 10, 2022: In an interview on the Guy Benson Show, Santos said: “If I’m making history — sure I’m making history and that’s fantastic. I’m going to be one of two Jewish Republican freshmen.”
Nov. 17, 2022: The Santos Wikipedia page was changed from identifying him as “Jewish” to identifying him as “Roman Catholic and Jewish.”
Nov. 19, 2022: He began a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition with “Shabbat shalom,” then said: “My grandparents have a very strong story that I resonate with. We’re no stranger to persecution, my grandfather fleeing Ukraine in the 1920s to Belgium, then fleeing Belgium to Brazil in 1940. It’s a story of survival, of tenacity, of grit.”
Nov. 27, 2022: In a videotaped interview with the Jewish News Syndicate, he said, “As I always joke, I’m Jew-ish. I come from a Jewish family, my mother’s family is Jewish. I grew up and I was raised Roman Catholic. My father is Roman Catholic. But I’m very proud of my Jewish heritage. I’m very proud of my grandparents’ story.
“My grandfather fleeing Ukraine, fleeing Stalin’s persecution, going to Belgium, finding refuge there, marrying my grandmother, then fleeing Hitler, going to Brazil. That’s a story of perseverance. … Not only did we survive, but now I’m able to go advocate and fight for other Jewish people all across my district, but also all across this country and across the world.
“I want to use the opportunity of this awesome responsibility of being a congressman to make those bridges, to fight for Israel, to strengthen our allyship with Israel. They’re our biggest ally. Without Israel there’s no democracy in the Middle East. So I’m very proud of that heritage. I might not be a practicing Jew but still at heart …”
He noted that two Jewish state assemblymen had been elected to represent Long Island’s heavily Jewish Five Towns area, and said: “When you start seeing that push, representation is coming, and guess what, we’re here to stay and we’re going to fight to debunk and end BDS.”
And he used first-person plural pronouns (“we”) when talking about Orthodox Jews being criticized for not following COVID-19 protocols in the early days of the pandemic. “The No. 1 community targeted was the Jewish community,” Santos said. “And that’s unacceptable. We can worship. We can go to yeshiva. This is un-American.”
Dec. 21, 2022: The Forward reported that, contrary to the claims on Santos’ campaign website, his grandparents did not flee Ukraine or Belgium during World War II, but were both born in Brazil, in 1918 and 1927. CNN and Jewish Insider published similar articles soon after, and the Forward’s article was widely cited by news outlets around the country and world.
Dec. 26, 2022: Santos told the New York Post he is “clearly Catholic,” and said: “I never claimed to be Jewish. I am Catholic because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background. I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’”
Dec. 26, 2022: In a videotaped interview with CityAndStateNY, Santos said, “I always joke I’m Catholic, but I’m also Jew-ish. And I’ve made that joke because growing up, I grew up fully aware that my grandparents were Jewish, came from a Jewish family and they were refugees to Brazil and that was always the story I grew up with and I’ve always known it very well. I’ve told it the way it was told to me.
“Now it just strikes me so odd that people are rushing to disinherit me from being Jewish or for even allowing me to care for Israel and Judaism in a time and an era where antisemitism is at an all-time rise. Here’s somebody who actually cares about Jews, cares about Israel and somebody who’s willing to fight for them and we have people pushing me away.
“I got a text from somebody today who said, ‘I don’t care what they say, you’re still an MOT.’ I’m sure you know what an MOT is — member of the tribe — and it feels good. I’m Catholic and grew up Catholic. I’ve always loved and had a deep respect for my Jewish heritage.”
Dec. 27, 2022: In an interview with 77WABC’s Cats at Night, a show co-hosted by former Rep. Anthony Weiner, Santos said: “My grandfather’s Ukrainian descent, my grandmother Belgium. That’s the story. He goes from Ukraine to Belgium. They go to Brazil. That’s the story that was told my entire life.” Asked if his grandparents were born in Brazil, he said: “To the best of my knowledge, to the best of my understanding, no, they were not.”
Dec. 27, 2022: The Forward reported that Santos called himself a “proud American Jew” in a 2022 position paper on the Middle East sent to AIPAC and other Jewish and pro-Israel groups. He also said in the document that he had “been to Israel numerous times [for] educational, business, and leisurely trips.”
Dec. 27, 2022: On Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii asked Santos to explain his description of himself as “a proud American Jew.” Santos answered: “My heritage is Jewish. I’ve always identified as Jewish.” He added that he was “raised a practicing Catholic” and “always joked” with friends that “I’m Jew-ish.”
Jan. 27, 2023: Santos spoke about Holocaust Remembrance Day on the floor of Congress, but did not mention his false claims of having grandparents who survived the Holocaust.
The Forward’s political reporter Jacob Kornbluh contributed to this report.
This story has been updated with additional material.