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George Santos fabricated his life story. The person he pretended to be will defeat him in 2024

Several of the candidates challenging for his seat have the Jewish heritage and business acumen that Santos boasted of

When George Santos won a seat in the House of Representatives last November, voters believed him to be an adept and charitable businessman of Jewish descent, whose skillful campaigning turned New York’s 3rd Congressional District from blue to red. 

By December, that façade came crashing down faster than a groom’s foot under the chuppah, following a stunning exposé revealing that the congressman-elect had fabricated almost every conceivable detail of his life background, including that his grandparents fled Europe because of the rise of the Nazis. 

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Through our roles at organizations we both co-founded — Path to Progress and Students Against Santos, respectively — we coordinated a rally outside Santos’ district office in March 2023. Our aim was to bring attention to his repeated lies and abhorrent policy positions. Santos’ personal response only reinforced the bigotry and prejudice against which we were protesting. 

If George Santos were all he claimed to be, he would have a shot at retaining his seat come 2024. But now, politically vulnerable and under federal indictment, the embattled congressman will face an uphill battle if he appears on the ballot. Santos’ repeated lies and fabricated persona stand in stark contrast to the winning strategy he may have unwittingly provided to other candidates: Be a young, charitable, Jewish leader with (legitimate) business experience.

As progressive Gen Z Jews, we are disturbed by Santos’ lies about his Jewish heritage, but his legislative priorities are equally concerning. For instance, Santos co-sponsored legislation to make the AR-15 rifle the “national gun of the United States.” The same type of firearm has been used in countless mass shootings, including the Tree of Life synagogue shooting less than five years ago when a white nationalist killed 11 congregants in an antisemitic attack.

Santos’ district, which is home to one of the largest Jewish populations in the country, is now represented by an overtly antisemitic elected official — and the only one in the United States (that we know of) to misspell “heil Hitler.” Recently released audio revealed Santos mocking his Jewish constituents and perpetuating harmful stereotypes, making up Yiddish-sounding words, and doubling down on his antisemitism by saying, “You sit in a room with a lot of Jews, you’re f—ed.”

Santos’ history of bigotry and impropriety underscores the importance of electing someone with the tried-and-true Jewish values of inclusivity, compassion and tolerance. Fittingly, three of the declared Democratic candidates in the race against Santos happen to be Jewish, and embody many of the traits that Santos falsified for himself: nonprofit experience, business acumen and Jewish roots.

Democratic candidate Zak Malamed announced his candidacy on May 15 in a video, saying, “I’m actually Jewish. My relatives were victims of the Holocaust,” over footage of his bar mitzvah and photo of a visit to Auschwitz, alluding to Santos’ false claims of being “Jew-ish.” 

Conservative, cryptocurrency-backed candidate Josh Lafazan, who is also running for the Democratic nomination in Santos’ district, tweeted about and fundraised off his Jewish background, slamming Santos for his fraudulent credentials.

Former New York State Sen. Anna Kaplan also centered her recent campaign launch on her Jewish roots. “I am a Jewish political refugee and I don’t have to lie,” Kaplan said in an interview last week. “I escaped Iran because my parents feared for our life and they feared persecution just because we are Jews.”

The citizens of New York’s 3rd District deserve a representative who will secure funding for the district, properly provide constituent services, and serve in Congress seriously and in good faith. Even the least favorable of Santos’ prospective opponents will be several steps up from the low bar he has set; the most favorable will truly embody what he claimed to be.

All of the candidates will likely campaign on Santos’ history of lying and will underscore his looming trial. Last week, Santos pleaded not guilty to a 13-count federal indictment charging him with wire fraud, money laundering, lying to Congress and committing unemployment insurance fraud.

As the Department of Justice litigates its case against Santos, it seems that poetic justice may have already arrived. The persona that led Santos to victory was a farce, but it could provide a blueprint for his potential successor.

While Santos isn’t the person he claimed to be, people like that do exist — and one of them will likely succeed him in Congress.

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