ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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I’m Jewish, I don’t have to lie: Democrat challenger lashes ‘disgrace’ George Santos

Former state senator Anna Kaplan, launching Congressional campaign, says Republican exposed for massive deceit ‘makes a mockery of our religion’

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Then New York State Senator Anna Kaplan is introduced during opening day of the 2019 legislative session in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany, New York, January 9, 2019. (AP/Hans Pennink)
Then New York State Senator Anna Kaplan is introduced during opening day of the 2019 legislative session in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany, New York, January 9, 2019. (AP/Hans Pennink)

NEW YORK — A Jewish politician from Long Island on Tuesday blasted Congressman George Santos for his lies, including falsehoods about being Jewish, as her campaign to challenge the Republican for his Congressional seat got underway.

Anna Kaplan is a centrist Democrat who launched her campaign for New York’s 3rd Congressional District late last week. Santos was exposed for lying about much of his background after being elected to Congress last year.

“George Santos is a disgrace and he should resign immediately, but he has said he’s not going to resign, and to use a Yiddish word, he has ‘chutzpah‘ to say he’s running for reelection,” Kaplan told The Times of Israel. “Congress should really expel him but we all know that Kevin McCarthy refuses to do the right thing. That’s why I’m running.”

Santos falsely claimed that his grandparents were Jews who fled the Nazis, and walked back his claims, saying he was “Jew-ish,” although there is no evidence.

Kaplan at age 13 fled to the US from Iran as a refugee at the time of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Her parents put her on a plane to the US with 39 other children “without knowing if they’ll see me again,” she said.

“The residents of this district are outraged by his lies, lies that started while he was campaigning and have continued while he’s taken office. One of the lies that really particularly offends me is his lie about his Jewish heritage,” Kaplan said. “So when he talks about being ‘Jew-ish’ I find that so disgusting and so offensive and I feel that he’s making a mockery of our religion.”

“I am a Jewish political refugee and I don’t have to lie,” she said. “I escaped Iran because my parents feared for our life and they feared persecution just because we are Jews.”

Santos has refused to step down despite polls showing his constituents overwhelmingly think he should resign, and widespread condemnation including from some of his own party.

Last week, Santos was indicted on charges that he embezzled money from his campaign, lied to Congress about his income, and cheated his way into undeserved unemployment benefits.

Two other Jewish Democrats have declared their candidacy for Santos’s district, which covers parts of Long Island and Queens. The others are Zak Malamed, the founder of a Democratic fundraising group, and Josh Lafazan, a Nassau County legislator. Democratic attorney Will Murphy is also running, as is one Republican, former J.P. Morgan executive Kellen Curry.

Malamed also said he was partly inspired to run by Santos’s lies about his Jewish background.

Kaplan said her legislative experience sets her apart. She served for four years in the New York State Senate, and was a local councilwoman for seven years before that. As a politician, she has championed women’s rights, gun control, and Holocaust education.

US Rep. George Santos, a New York Republican, leaves a House GOP conference meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 25, 2023. (AP Photo/ Andrew Harnik)

Kaplan represented New York’s 7th State Senate district between 2019 and January of this year, when she lost her seat to Republican challenger Jack Martins, part of a trend toward conservatism on Long Island and other areas during the election cycle. She ascribed the result partly to redistricting that took place during the campaign.

Despite the swing to a Republican, voters in the area want to protect abortion rights and enforce gun control, issues she has a track record on, Kaplan said. Her campaign video highlights that Santos wore an AR-15 pin on the house floor shortly after a mass shooting. Kaplan also describes discrimination against her family in Iran in the video.

Kaplan flipped her district when she first won her state senate seat in 2018, beating the Republican incumbent by over 10 points. She said she has passed bipartisan legislation and voted against her party in the past to better represent her constituents.

She will also continue to stand for Jewish causes as a lawmaker, she said. Last year, she passed a bill to boost Holocaust awareness in education and museums.

“I will always stand up for Jewish causes. It is not just a line, it is something that I believe in, it’s who I am,” she said.

Santos filed to run for reelection last month and has dismissed the legal cases against him as a “witch hunt.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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