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Congresswoman Apologizes Referring to Political Rival as ‘Orthodox Jew’

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois apologized for referring to a one-time political rival as an “Orthodox Jew” in casting him as a threat to liberal interests.

“It was correctly noted that my description of my 2010 opponent in the congressional race irrelevantly noted that in addition to being a Tea Party Republican, he is an Orthodox Jew,” she said in a statement Tuesday, referring to her address Monday to J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group.

“I understand how this was heard, by extension, as an affront to the Orthodox community. I regret that and unequivocally apologize for it,” the Democrat’s statement said.

Schakowsky, who is Jewish, in her speech was describing how J Street’s political backing allowed her to take positions that once were unpopular in the pro-Israel community.

“Some of the courage to take positions that I’ve been able to take are really because of the space that, in a very short time, J Street has opened for members of Congress to expand the political discussion about the state of Israel and our relation toward it,” she said.

“In 2010, I had an election within our community. That is, I ran against a Jewish Orthodox Tea Party Republican who made it very clear that actually, Jan Schakowsky was anti-Israel because of the positions that she took,” Schakowsky said. She thanked J Street because it “came to the rescue” with money and moral support.

Schakowsky in 2010 faced Joel Pollak, a conservative activist, in her suburban Chicago district.

After JTA tweeted a reference to Schakowsky’s comments, the Orthodox Union asked her for a clarification.

“In the context of her remarks and speaking to such an audience, the Congresswoman’s use of the term ‘Orthodox’ was a negative term – as negative for that audience as Tea Party and Republican,” the O.U.’s Washington director, Nathan Diament, said in a statement.

“This morning, upon learning about her remarks, we spoke with Rep. Schakowsky and conveyed how offended we were by the apparent intent of her remarks,” he said. “We appreciate the unequivocal apology issued by Rep. Schakowsky in response to our concerns. We hope such an incident will not occur again.”

Schakowsky in her statement continued to fault Pollak for his campaign, which emphasized what he depicted as her wrongheaded posture on Israel.

“While I believe my opponent’s campaign irresponsibly attempted to divide the Jewish community and 9th District voters by attacking my unblemished record in support of Israel, I do not attribute his actions to the fact that he is Orthodox and regret that my words sounded otherwise,” she said. “I hope those I offended will accept my heartfelt apology.”

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