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Anti-Semitic Analogy Prompts Call for Apology from Reform Jewish Leader

Saperstein: “I very much hope that ... you will retract your statement, and in the future pay particular attention to taking careful consideration of the weight of the allusions made in your statements and the many ways in which they may be interpreted.”

Contact: Kate Bigam or Liz Piper-Goldberg
202.387.2800 | news@rac.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 19, 2009 – Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, today sent letters to Edwin O. Merwin Jr. and James S. Ulmer Jr., expressing concern about anti-Semitic remarks made in their joint letter to the South Carolina Times and Democrat on October 18, 2009. The letter to the newspaper may be found here, and text of Rabbi Saperstein's letter follows:

Dear Mr. Merwin and Mr. Ulmer,

On behalf of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, representing the largest stream of American Jewry, I write out of concern about your joint letter “DeMint watches out for all of us,” published in The Times and Democrat on October 18, 2009.

In the piece, you write, “There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves. By not using earmarks to fund projects for South Carolina and instead using actual bills, [Sen. Jim DeMint] is watching our nation’s pennies and trying to preserve our country’s wealth and our economy’s viability to give all an opportunity to succeed.” The troubling use of this caricature of the Jew, no matter your intention in defending Sen. DeMint, blatantly perpetuates centuries of anti-Semitic canards about Jews as greedy, miserly money handlers.

Public expression that smacks of anti-Semitism – especially made by those in positions of power and respect – is cause for grave concern. Such statements have been used throughout the years as validation by those who would incite hate against Jews and who have cultivated and perpetuated insulting characterizations of the Jewish people. It is especially unfortunate when these odious stereotypes find their way into public discourse about the current economic challenges faced by our nation and world.

With the onset of the economic crisis, reports of anti-Semitic attitudes and incidents at home and abroad appear to be on the rise – a recent Anti-Defamation League survey of 3,500 adults in seven countries found that 31% of those surveyed "blame Jews in the financial industry for the current global economic crisis" and 40% "believe that Jews have too much power in the business world." In such tenuous economic times, statements like yours are not only offensive but convey images and ideas that incite those who would blame Jews for the country’s financial difficulties.

The Reform Jewish Movement has long encouraged governments and international organizations to educate the public about the harms of anti-Semitism and to promote true respect and understanding of all nationalities, faiths, religious groups and ethnicities. I very much hope that, in this spirit, you will retract your statement, and in the future pay particular attention to taking careful consideration of the weight of the allusions made in your statements and the many ways in which they may be interpreted.

Sincerely,
/s/
Rabbi David Saperstein

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis. Visit www.rac.org for more.



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