As towns across Connecticut held vigils for the victims of last weekend’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, new allegations of anti-Semitism have arisen in a race for state senate.
Republican candidate Ed Charamut in Connecticut’s 9th District, which encompasses about 100,000 residents in the Middletown area, sent out a campaign flyer this week that featured a doctored graphic of his Jewish opponent, Democratic state representative Matthew Lesser, grinning while holding several $100 bills under the caption “Vote No on Matt Lesser.” Critics have widely condemned the mailer for portraying anti-Semitic Jewish stereotypes. The flyers appeared three days after the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history, which killed 11 and wounded six. The shooter, Robert Bowers, was taken into custody after being wounded and has been charged with 29 counts, which could result in the death penalty.
“This is a fraught time in this country, and emotions are running high, and people are afraid — not just Jews, but people from a variety of different backgrounds,” Lesser said. “Obviously, we’re not going to be able to stop people from doing disturbing things, but we can certainly create a culture in which this kind of activity is not tolerated.”
Lesser said that he first learned about the controversial flyer during a forum in Cromwell, when he received texts from concerned constituents.
Although he said that he could not know what was in his opponent’s heart when he approved the poster, he said that he was “shocked” when he saw the image.
“On Sunday night, we held a candlelight vigil at the South Green, where hundreds of community members, people from a wide variety of faith traditions, came out to express solidarity, to stand against hate,” Lesser said. “That was a real high point and a moment of pride for the community, and the next day we get this stuff in the mail.”
In an email to the News, Charamut categorically denied that the flyer was anti-Semitic.
“Once again, Matt Lesser is using the Democrat playbook of identity politics to hide from his record,” Charamut wrote. “Those wishing to portray a graphic illustration as something hateful are completely wrong. I reject hate speech in all its forms.”
According to Charamut, the flyer was meant to highlight Lesser’s preference for higher taxes and government spending.
“Do you want to protect your wallets, or do you want to make Matt Lesser your new state Senator?” Charamut added. “The decision is up to the taxpayers of Cromwell, Middletown, Newington, Rocky Hill and Wethersfield.”
In addition to a vigil held by the Women’s Table on Yale’s campus on Sunday night, vigils to honor the victims of the shooting took place in towns including Hartford, New Haven, Westport, Stamford and Middletown.
On Sunday, Gov. Dannel Malloy ordered that all U.S. and state flags fly at half-staff until sunset on Wednesday in accordance with a presidential proclamation ordering flags to be lowered across the country in honor of the victims.
Malloy had released a statement the day before, criticizing Congress for its lack of action on gun control.
“As mass shootings continue, the reality is that Congress does nothing; as blood continues to be senselessly spilled, Washington complicity caves to the will of the gun lobby. Enough is enough,” Malloy wrote. “It’s time for action, not thoughts and prayers, and this nation deserves a Congress that will take the gun violence epidemic seriously.”
United States Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn. — who is also Jewish — said that some of the blame for the shooting lies with President Donald Trump.
“The Internet and social media has been turned into a virtual cesspool of hatred because of the vitriol that we’ve seen from top leaders in our country,” Blumenthal said in an interview on CNN on Monday. “The president’s words have encouraged dehumanizing people who are different in race or religion or appearance, and some of the blame has to be laid at the door of the White House.”
According to a study by the Anti-Defamation League released on Oct. 26 that analyzed more than 7.5 million tweets, there has been a “marked rise in the number of online attacks” against American Jews in the run-up to the midterm elections next Tuesday.
Democratic Middletown Mayor Dan Drew has called for Charamut to drop out of the race as a result of the mailers.
Lesser, however, said that whether or not his opponent becomes a state senator is up to the voters to decide, not him.
“My hope is that the vast majority of voters out there are decent people who reject hate and are not going to be swayed by this kind of dog-whistle message,” Lesser said.
Approximately 3.4 percent of Connecticut residents identify as Jewish, according to a report from the University of Connecticut.
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