In 1790, George Washington wrote a letter to the Jews of Newport, R.I., making clear that Jewish Americans were full and equal citizens of the new nation. In that letter, Washington promised that our nation would give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” thus establishing that from the very beginning of America’s independence, bigotry, and particularly antisemitism, were fundamentally inconsistent with America’s core values. This promise has been repeatedly broken by President Trump and others in his party, including my senator, David Perdue, R-Ga.
As a member of the Atlanta Jewish community, I can attest to the fact that Perdue is so desperate that he is willing to sink to truly disgraceful depths in an effort to beat his Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff. Witness the digital ad Perdue recently ran, grotesquely altering the size of Ossoff’s nose and accusing Ossoff and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., of trying to “buy Georgia.” In embracing the caricature of Jews with large noses and leveling the scurrilous accusation that Ossoff and Schumer – both Jewish – are trying to buy influence and power, Perdue invoked two of the world’s oldest antisemitic tropes.
Employing such a campaign tactic blatantly violates the promise Washington made to America’s Jews, but also echoes President Trump’s own use of antisemitic tropes. Just as when Trump called Jews financial “killers” earlier this year, Perdue has associated Jews with money. To add insult to injury, he’s also perpetuated negative physical stereotypes associated with Jews. For both President Trump and Senator Purdue, this is a cynical and ugly ploy to use hatred to further their political agenda, and it has no place in our civic discourse.
Ossoff rightly called the ad “offensive and shocking,” but worse than that, it is downright dangerous, and we’ve seen the result of Trump’s own antisemitism in recent years. He has fomented horrific and violent Jew-hatred by neo-Nazis and white nationalists, helping to create the current climate of rising antisemitism and hate crimes we see in our country. In following the example of his party’s leader, with whom (according to FiveThirtyEight) he agrees 95 percent of the time, Perdue’s behavior was deeply reckless and irresponsible. His action has hurt and endangered all Jewish Americans and, indeed, all Americans by signaling that rank bigotry is now an acceptable tactic in political campaigns.
I am a proud resident of Atlanta, where I have lived for over 30 years. When the news of Perdue’s ad broke, I was just logging off a meeting of the Georgia chapter of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, on whose national board I serve. At the meeting, activists had shared stories about facing antisemitism and about how the divisive, antisemitic rhetoric of the Trump administration has affected their lives. These were hard conversations, but I was profoundly moved to be working with American Jews determined to elect candidates who understand that bigotry of all forms must be soundly and unequivocally rejected. Clearly, David Perdue lacks that understanding.
Once he saw the widespread disgust he had engendered, Perdue took down his ad, but he refused to take responsibility for his actions, instead blaming his consultants for what he described as an inadvertent manipulation of Ossoff’s photo. Yet the photo was accompanied by antisemitic copy explicitly accusing two Jewish politicians of seeking to “buy” an election. That copy was hardly inadvertent, and given its juxtaposition with the photo, it strains credulity to believe that the photo’s manipulation to enlarge and elongate Ossoff’s nose was accidental and unintentional.
Perdue has steadfastly refused to apologize for either the copy or the photo, making clear that he will not hold himself accountable for his campaign’s conduct. Likewise, the silence of Republicans, to say nothing of the full-throated defense of Perdue offered by the Republican Jewish Coalition, isn’t surprising given their constant defense of Trump, but it’s deeply troubling. As a consequence, we in Georgia must hold Perdue accountable, for both his conduct and his evasion of responsibility. George Washington understood clearly that there is no place in the United States for the bigotry Perdue so easily embraces. On Nov. 3, we must resoundingly remind ourselves of the important lesson Washington imparted to our young nation by rejecting bigotry and rejecting David Perdue.
Michael Rosenzweig is a board member of the Jewish Democratic Council of America and a head of the JDCA Georgia chapter.