A Jewish spokeman for Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona drew jeers and sparked a mass walkout during a recent candidates’ forum when he claimed that the Baptist lawmaker was “a more observant Jew” than the audience members.
Jonathan Tratt, a real estate investor and political fund-raiser, made the remark while defending Hayworth’s opposition of abortion rights. Tratt, who is Jewish, was referring to the fact that although ancient rabbinic law does not ban abortion, it restricts it to instances when the health of the mother is in danger.
“He kind of pointed at the audience and said it,” said Hannah Kaplan, co-president of the forum’s sponsor, the Arizona section of the National Council of Jewish Women. “It was definitely not a joke.” The remark prompted about three-quarters of the attendees to storm out angrily.
According to press reports, when some audience members confronted Tratt after the event, his Israeli-born wife, Irit, said, “No wonder there are antisemites.”
Hayworth is entering the final weeks of a close race against Democrat Harry Mitchell, a former state senator and onetime mayor of Tempe, in a moderate Republican district that includes Scottsdale and Tempe. Over the summer, Hayworth came under fire in some Jewish circles for his new book, in which he praised the pro-assimilation beliefs of antisemitic automaker Henry Ford. Jewish Republicans rushed to his defense, noting his strong support for Israel.
Mitchell was in attendance at the October 17 forum, as were Republican Senator Jon Kyl and his Democratic challenger, Jim Pederson. Tratt stood in for Hayworth, who told organizers he had a previous commitment.
In the wake of the event, Democrats have condemned Tratt’s remarks and called for Hayworth to issue a formal apology. Officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby for which Tratt volunteers, called his comments during the forum “repugnant” and “in no way representative of Aipac,” according to the East Valley Tribune.
Hayworth spokesman Brian Hummel did not return calls from the Forward. He told the Arizona Republic that prior to Tratt’s outburst, the volunteers “were bullied, badgered and insulted.”
“Although clearly provoked, it doesn’t excuse what was said, and we regret that anyone was offended,” Hummel reportedly said.
The subsequent revelation that Tratt once coordinated betting for a criminal gambling ring has given the Hayworth campaign an additional black eye. Tratt pleaded guilty to promotion of gambling in 2001. He was placed on probation for a year and forced to pay a $40,000 fine to the Arizona attorney general’s Anti-Racketeering Fund.
“We had no knowledge of Mr. Tratt’s misdemeanor conviction prior to asking him to speak for us,” Hummel told the Arizona Republic.