Herschel Walker Nixes Fundraiser Over Swastika Graphic

Herschel Walker Nixes Fundraiser Over Swastika Graphic

Jewish groups criticize Holocaust-COVID linkage as ex-football star’s campaign calls him “strong friend” of Israel/Jewish community.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Herschel Walker’s U.S. Senate campaign canceled a Texas fundraiser because the host’s Twitter profile displayed syringes in the shape of a swastika as a protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

The Republican hopeful’s campaign Wednesday initially defended the image displayed by movie producer Bettina Sofia Viviano-Langlais, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it was “clearly an anti-mandatory vaccination graphic.” After the apparent misstep, the campaign regained its footing and canceled the Saturday event at Viviano-Langlais’ home in suburban Dallas.

A statement issued by campaign press secretary Mallory Blount said: “Herschel is a strong friend of Israel and the Jewish community and opposes hatred and bigotry of all forms. Despite the fact that the apparent intent behind the graphic was to condemn government vaccine mandates, the symbol used is very offensive and does not reflect the values of Herschel Walker or his campaign.”

The AJT has reached out to Walker’s campaign for additional comment.

Walker, a former star running back for the University of Georgia football team, is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who was elected to a two-year term in a January 2021 runoff and will seek a full six-year term in November 2022.

Jewish groups quickly flagged the imagery, first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, as out of bounds.

“A swastika is a symbol of hate. Walker may have canceled his fundraiser after a sponsor associated with the event displayed the antisemitic symbol proudly, but he must condemn Holocaust and COVID health policies comparisons immediately,” said Dov Wilker, Atlanta regional director of the American Jewish Committee.

The Southeast regional office of the Anti-Defamation League posted on Twitter: “Comparing vaccine politics to the genocide committed by the Nazis is deeply offensive — it’s become a common and callous tool for political gain. We’re glad to see the fundraiser was canceled, and the behaviors of the host were denounced as offensive.”

The Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon, an Atlanta group, posted on Twitter: “Beyond unacceptable. A swastika is a swastika.”

The AJT also reached out to the local chapter of the Republican Jewish Committee for comment.

A search Thursday for the Twitter page of Bettina Viviano or Viviano-Langlais came up “No Results.” Screenshots of the apparently deleted page with the swastika had listed her as “Film/TV Producer/Literary Manager. Owner Accelerate Entertainment. Hollywood Resistance Because We’re Not All Lefties. #MAGA.” MAGA (Make American Great Again) was a slogan used by Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign and throughout his term in the White House.

The Journal-Constitution reported: “In a post on Wednesday, Viviano-Langlais said she removed the symbol ‘because of the left’s need to silence free speech’ and that she didn’t intend it to be antisemitic. ‘It was a pic showing what happens when fascists demand people insert foreign material into their body they don’t want.’”

Viviano-Langlais told the Daily Mail, a British newspaper: “My biggest disappointment is that yet again another Conservative has decided to succumb to the outrage mob, cancel culture, and cancel the event.” She also told the Daily Mail: “I specifically chose that symbol as an artistic protest against those that seem to think it’s okay to violate human rights.”

Jewish groups have condemned the use of the Holocaust to express opposition to the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. First-term Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who represents the 14th district in northwest Georgia, apologized in June for comparing mask and vaccine requirements to anti-Jewish laws in Nazi Germany.

In addition to Walker, candidates for the May 24, 2022, Republican primary include Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, Kelvin King, and Latham Saddler. Walker’s campaign recently announced that it thus far has raised $3.7 million.

In 1982, Walker won the Heisman Trophy, awarded by the New York Athletic Club to that season’s premier college football player. He played a major role in the University of Georgia’s undefeated 1980 season, when it was voted the nation’s top college football team.

Walker, who has lived in Texas in recent years, was encouraged to enter the race by former Republican President Donald Trump. His association with Trump began when the casino and hotel owner purchased the New Jersey Generals of the now-defunct United States Football League. Walker signed with the team after his junior year at UGA. He later played in the National Football League for the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants.

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