North Carolina race pits Jewish Democrat against Republican accused of antisemitism

Josh Stein to face off against Mark Robinson, whose social media posts and comments have targeted Jewish and LGBTQ communities

Democratic North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Josh Stein speaks at a primary election night party in Raleigh, North Carolina, March 5, 2024 (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
Democratic North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Josh Stein speaks at a primary election night party in Raleigh, North Carolina, March 5, 2024 (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

JTA — When North Carolina voters go to the polls in November to elect their next governor, they will choose between a Jewish Democrat and a Republican who has been accused of antisemitism but said he apologized.

Both parties’ contests were called relatively early on Tuesday evening, as soon as the polls closed. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who has troubled his state’s Jewish community with past remarks considered antisemitic for which he has expressed remorse, was projected to win the Republican nod for governor, and will face off against Josh Stein, the state’s Jewish Democratic attorney general.

NBC called Tuesday’s primaries for Robinson and Stein as soon as the polls closed. Stein was the first Jew to win statewide office in North Carolina in 2016, when he won the attorney general’s race. Robinson, who is Black, had the backing of former US פresident Donald Trump, who recently called him “Martin Luther King on steroids.”

Stein, 57, trotted to the nomination after being endorsed last year by outgoing Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is term-limited. He is active in Temple Beth Or in Raleigh, a Reform synagogue, and has invoked his Judaism in explaining his politics.

“Our Jewish faith obliges us to do our part to make the world a better place, better than we found it,” he said on X, formerly Twitter, to mark Rosh Hashanah in 2022. “This principle guides me as your attorney general.”

Stein has also faced antisemitic invective. In 2017, an influential North Carolina conservative news site linked to an article invoking the antisemitic Great Replacement Theory in an attack on Stein. The conspiracy theory says Jews are orchestrating mass immigration to replace the majority-white populations of Western countries.

Republican Governor Candidate North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson speaks at an election night event in Greensboro, North Carolina, March 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

The article in question said, “Stein is a reform Jew. Those from within his own ethnic group want the Christian majority with roots in western countries to be numerically diluted.”

After winning the nomination on Tuesday, Stein wrote that he was “pumped” in a post on X.

“I’m incredibly humbled, honored, and pumped to officially be the Democratic nominee for Governor of North Carolina,” he wrote. ״Thank you to everyone who has supported our campaign and believes in our vision for a stronger, safer North Carolina.״

Robinson, 55, rose to political stardom in 2018 when a video of his pro-gun rights speech at a Greensboro City Council meeting went viral. He had never held elected office, but state Republicans encouraged him to run for lieutenant governor, and he pulled off a win in 2020, a year when Democrats won the attorney general and governor races. His campaign highlighted his rise from poverty.

Soon, however, social media posts of his surfaced. Many targeted the LGBTQ community, but some advanced bigoted tropes about Jews.

In 2018 he aimed fire at the blockbuster “Black Panther” movie.

“How can this trash, that was only created to pull the shekels out of your Schvartze pockets, invoke any pride?” he wrote, employing a Yiddish slur for Black people. “Shekels,” Israel’s currency, is often used in antisemitic rhetoric.

Black Panther was created in the 1960s by two Jewish comic book creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The film was directed by Ryan Coogler, a Black filmmaker who is involved in social justice causes.

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson speaks before Republican presidential candidate former US President Donald Trump at a campaign rally, March 2, 2024, in Greensboro, North Carolina (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Robinson also used the slur in 2017 when criticizing the 1977 TV miniseries “Roots” which, he wrote, portrays the “weakness of the shvartze.”

In 2020, the Raleigh News & Observer unearthed a conversation that Robinson had in 2019 with a fringe religious leader named Sean Moon. In the interview, Moon invokes antisemitic tropes about the Rothschild family, and Robinson says “That’s exactly right.”

He has also repeatedly said that the left focuses too much on the threat of violent right wing extremism in the form of Nazis, and that the threat is overstated.

In a political autobiography he said he apologized to Jews in the state for his posts, although he has never made the apology public. He has also condemned antisemitic fliers appearing last year in Raleigh, and has attacked Democrats who have criticized Israel.

Polls show that the race is neck-and-neck.

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