‘Money Grubbing’ Campaign Ads Aren’t Anti-Semitic — They’re Politics As Usual by the Forward

‘Money Grubbing’ Campaign Ads Aren’t Anti-Semitic — They’re Politics As Usual

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In the wake of the bloodiest anti-Semitic attack in modern American history, many are rightfully emotional and fearful, myself included.

But passions have run amok a week before Election Day. Some of this emotion is getting the better of us, and public discourse has descended into the absurd.

Even in the face of tragedy, proportion and nuance are vital. Instead, we have witnessed angry hyperbole, broad-based accusations and vitriolic personal attacks.

Opinion | ‘Money Grubbing’ Campaign Ads Aren’t Anti-Semitic — They’re Politics As Usual

The latest overreaction comes from a local race near Hartford, Connecticut — a race most people had never heard of until it became the newest victim of the Twitter cesspool.

The source of the controversy is a political mail piece sent to voters by a Republican candidate for Connecticut state Senate, Ed Charamut. The mailer depicts his Democratic opponent Matthew Lesser in a cartoony style, with a greedy smile and several hundred dollar bills in his hands.

Why all the fuss? Because Lesser is Jewish, which apparently exempts him from traditional political attacks.

The piece created the usual furor on social media.

Reporters labeled it “disgusting” and anti-Semitic. New America fellow Jill Filipovic declared it “a concrete effort to fan the flames of anti-Semitism and stir up fear and hatred.”

Mayor Dan Drew of Middletown, Conn., demanded that Charamut drop out of the race. The normally sleepy local race even made the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Opinion | ‘Money Grubbing’ Campaign Ads Aren’t Anti-Semitic — They’re Politics As Usual

Jewish groups piled on. Stuart S. Miller, the academic director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life at UConn, denounced the mailer: “I personally find this reprehensible, deeply offensive and inexcusable. I cannot believe that it is an innocent allusion to a supposedly money-spending Democrat.”

I have to wonder if these indignant commentators have ever seen a political ad or received political mail in their lives.

Accusing political opponents of greed, corruption, and financial motivation is practically one of the Ten Commandments of political campaigns. Democrats and Republicans alike employ this narrative against all candidates — regardless of race and religion. It is so common, it is almost trite.

Opinion | ‘Money Grubbing’ Campaign Ads Aren’t Anti-Semitic — They’re Politics As Usual

When I worked on Republican Senator Pat Toomey’s 2016 reelection campaign, Democrats called the Senator “fat cat Pat,” in reference to his work in the financial sector.

Would the rules be different if his first name was Pinchas instead or Patrick?

Opinion | ‘Money Grubbing’ Campaign Ads Aren’t Anti-Semitic — They’re Politics As Usual

While House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was rebuked for accusing Democratic donors who happen to be Jewish of trying to buy the midterm elections, no one batted an eye when Bernie Sanders accused Sheldon Adelson of the same crime.

As a political consultant (who is Jewish), I have produced hundreds of negative mailers, and many contain exaggerated pictures of political opponents holding bags of money. I don’t regret any of those mailers, and intend to make more.

At the risk of divulging trade secrets, negative mail pieces are not meant to be nice. They feature dark colors, sinister imagery, and exaggerated language.

You may find these mail pieces mean-spirited. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me negative ads and mailers turn off voters, I’d happily retire to a life of stereotypical Jewish wealth.

But that doesn’t make them anti-Semitic. If anything, Charamut’s mailer is more of a cliché than an anti-Semitic trope.

Others have called the Charamut mailer a dog-whistle to turn out anti-Semitic Republican voters. This accusation also fails to account for basic campaign strategy.

Connecticut’s 9th state Senate district is safely Democratic, in which the retiring Democrat won his last three elections with more than 60% of the vote. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the district by 15 points.

If the mailer is a dog-whistle, there are very few dogs in the district who will hear it.

Opinion | ‘Money Grubbing’ Campaign Ads Aren’t Anti-Semitic — They’re Politics As Usual

Finally, some may question the timing of the mailer, but they likely have no concept of the lifecycle of a mail piece.

Political mail often drops a week before its targeted delivery date, especially in the final weeks of an election when the postal system is dealing with a glut of political mail.

If voters received the offending mail on Monday, it almost certainly hit the local post office several days before the Pittsburgh attack, and the campaign would not have been able to pull the mail piece even if it wanted to.

Opinion | ‘Money Grubbing’ Campaign Ads Aren’t Anti-Semitic — They’re Politics As Usual

The point is not to minimize truly abhorrent anti-Semitism in the world, but to question those who fan the flames of hysteria in our public discourse.

Their baseless accusations create further division and escalate an already-tense political environment for the sake of — what? Clicks? Moral indignation? Political points?

There is real anti-Semitism in the United States, but this mailer is not evidence of it.

Opinion | ‘Money Grubbing’ Campaign Ads Aren’t Anti-Semitic — They’re Politics As Usual

There is a danger in calling everything anti-Semitism and labeling every political opponent an anti-Semite.

Crying “wolf” cheapens the accusation and blinds people to truly hateful acts and speech.

These stories are catnip for a hungry mob eager to denounce the other side as bigoted and hateful. They encourage a witch hunt that fuels intolerance and hatred — exactly the kind of sentiments we need to combat in society.

Nachama Soloveichik is a vice president at ColdSpark.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

‘Money Grubbing’ Campaign Ads Aren’t Anti-Semitic

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