by April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current
Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto on Monday joined fellow Sen. Jacky Rosen and Jewish community leaders to denounce antisemitism on the campaign trail.
Their comments largely criticized Republican Adam Laxalt, who polls have neck-and-neck with Cortez Masto in one of the most highly watched Senate battles this election cycle, but also highlighted a larger trend of rising antisemitism and related extremist views across the country.
Cortez Masto’s event came on the heels of an article from Jewish Insider published Sunday that revealed a former Laxalt staffer used an anonymous Twitter account to make denigrating comments about Jewish people, women and other marginalized communities. It also comes a month after Laxalt was criticized for promoting his endorsement by Michael Flynn, an incendiary former Trump advisor whose antisemitic remarks include comparing Republicans to Holocaust victims and seemingly blaming Jewish people for not fighting back when they were being marched to trains destined for death camps.
Failure to condemn actions like these has allowed them to grow, helping to fuel the antisemitic hate and violence we’ve seen in places like Charlottesville, in Poway, in Pittsburgh, and in Colleyville.– Sen. Jacky Rosen
The Jewish Insider report from this week involved a lower-level campaign employee named Michael Pecjak who created an account called LaxaltStan. On the account, which has since been deactivated but was preserved in screenshots and by an internet archiving site, he expressed disapproval of the right-wing news outlet Brietbart because it was described as “a pro-Jewish website with a reputation for treating women and minorities well” and said that trans children “aren’t real. It’s just child abuse by terrible parents.”
The Laxalt campaign’s press secretary, Brian Freimuth, told Jewish Insider in a statement that Pecjak was “terminated in August and is not affiliated with the campaign in any way.”
Freimuth, according to Jewish Insider, did not clarify why Pecjak’s employment was terminated or disclose whether the campaign knew about the antisemitic statements.
The statement continued: “The bigoted opinions expressed on the [T]witter account certainly don’t reflect the views of Adam Laxalt or this campaign. Adam’s public and private life show that he believes there should be zero tolerance for antisemitism in any form and suggestion otherwise is a politically motivated lie. Adam will always stand shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish community.”
The response isn’t enough, said Jewish community leaders.
“It doesn’t matter whether Laxalt is himself antisemitic,” said Margie Feldman, who leads the Nevada chapter of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. “His perpetuation of these conspiracies affects my family, my friends, my community, and my safety. This bigotry has to end.”
Cortez Masto painted Laxalt as an outsider with a history of not taking responsibility for the dangerous rhetoric he has directly spewed or indirectly condoned through his silence. She pointed to Laxalt’s downplaying of the Jan. 6 insurrection, which was inspired by baseless voter fraud conspiracy theories championed by him and other Trump allies.
Laxalt has also been recorded spouting “the great replacement” theory, a racist conspiracy with antisemitic undertones.
“Antisemitism is hate, plain and simple,” said Sen. Jacky Rosen, a former synagogue president who became the third Jewish woman to serve in the Senate. “It’s something we all must confront head on, and we cannot allow this behavior or these attitudes to be normalized. Failure to condemn actions like these has allowed them to grow, helping to fuel the antisemitic hate and violence we’ve seen in places like Charlottesville, in Poway, in Pittsburgh, and in Colleyville.”
Rosen was referring to the 2017 Charlottesville, N.C., rally where antisemitic sentiments like “Jews will not replace us” were chanted by participants; the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburg, Penn., that killed 11; the 2019 synagogue shooting in Poway, Calif., where one woman was murdered as she shielded a rabbi; and a standoff in a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, earlier this year where four hostages were released after 11 hours.
The Anti-Defamation League recorded 36 incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism or assault in Nevada in 2021 — an increase from the three prior years, where they recorded 22, 25 and 12 incidents total.
Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, who also spoke at the Monday event, said the incidents reported this year include a rabbi receiving a voicemail saying “heil Hitler, gas the Jews” and a man walking into a synonogue and “announcing that shootings happen every single day.” They also include swastikas and antisemitic graffiti in Las Vegas, Henderson, Lake Tahoe, Sparks and Reno.
‘A symptom’ of larger antisemitism
Elliot Malin, a Jewish community leader who works in politics, says he considers Laxalt a friend. He was not involved in the Monday event but has been vocal about antisemitic messaging from both Democratic and Republican political figures.
Malin says Laxalt attended a memorial with him at a Reno-area synagogue after theTree of Life shooting. It was days before the 2018 election — during which Laxalt was running for governor against Democrat Steve Sisolak — but Malin said he made it clear it was not a political event.
Laxalt respected that, says Malin, and showed “real concern” for the grieving community.
Malin sees the Laxalt-Pecjak link as “a symptom” of antisemitism across the greater political community: “That person (Pecjak) felt emboldened to say that.”
Many far-right talking points and conspiracy theories — such as Jewish billionaire George Soros or some “cabal” secretly running things — are steeped in antisemitism, Malin added.
“I don’t think people understand,” says Malin. “It might just be rhetoric — and rhetoric is protected speech, I get it — but it doesn’t make it free from consequences. They should not be legitimizing it because it opens the door for violence and harm. To put it bluntly, it leads to dead Jews.”
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