Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said March 3 there is no place for antisemitism in the state after a Republican state lawmaker expounded on the sexual habits of Jewish women during a legislative debate, a monologue several Jewish groups characterized as “bizarre.”
The governor did not specify the target of his comments but spoke in general terms on social media after the third recent instance of remarks by GOP lawmakers that were widely condemned as antisemitic.
“There is no place for antisemitism in Kentucky,” the Democratic governor wrote on his official Twitter account. “Not in our communities and not in our government. We are all equal and wonderful parts of Team Kentucky where we love our neighbors as ourselves.”
The outcry hit a crescendo after Rep. Danny Bentley commented March 2 on the Holocaust and his perception of the sexual habits of Jewish women during a long House debate on legislation to regulate the dispensing of abortion pills.
During a committee hearing last month, Rep. Walker Thomas and Sen. Rick Girdler both used an anti-Jewish slur that drew criticism from some of the same Jewish groups.
All three legislators later apologized for their remarks, but Jewish groups said the comments exposed a problem that should be addressed. The groups offered to provide training to legislators about understanding and combating antisemitism.
“The Kentucky General Assembly has an antisemitism problem,” said Melanie Maron Pell, chief field operations officer with the American Jewish Committee.
“They need to fine-tune their sensibilities” and speak out against antisemitic comments, she added.
James Pasch, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Cleveland, whose office covers Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania, said these comments are “unacceptable and dangerous.”
“The series of outrageous and antisemitic comments being made on the state floor of the Kentucky state legislature is unacceptable and is dangerous,” Pasch told the Cleveland Jewish News March 8. “The last thing we need are elected officials further perpetuating antisemitic myths and stereotypes about the Jewish people. It has to stop.”
ADL Cleveland registered its objections to Bentley’s remarks in a March 3 tweet.
Bentley made the comments during a debate on the abortion bill. He also falsely connected the origin of RU-486, or mifepristone, one of two pills taken to terminate pregnancies, to the Holocaust.
Jewish groups condemned Bentley’s remarks as “a bizarre, antisemitic rant” filled with outlandish claims.
The response came from the American Jewish Committee, along with the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Louisville and the National Council of Jewish Women’s Louisville Section.
The groups reminded lawmakers that “words matter and leadership matters.”
In his apology, Bentley said he meant “absolutely no harm” in his remarks and said he stands “with the Jewish community against hatred.”
Pasch said that is not enough.
“While we understand that all three legislators have apologized for their words, it is clear that a training needs to take place for elected officials in the state legislature about antisemitism, the history of antisemitism, and why their words as elected leaders matter,” Pasch said.
CJN Staff Reporter Jane Kaufman contributed to this report.