Primary concerns

Primary concerns

The targeted telephone call pulled no punches. “As governor of Massachusetts,” a voice told Jewish voters in Florida, many of whom are survivors of the Shoah, “Mitt Romney vetoed a bill paying for kosher food for our seniors in nursing homes. Holocaust survivors, who for the first time, were forced to eat non-kosher, because Romney thought $5 was too much to pay for our grandparents to eat kosher.”

The robocall, as the communications technique is known, then went on to urge Jewish voters to cast their votes for former Rep. Newt Gingrich. “Tuesday,” it said, “you can end Mitt Romney’s hypocrisy on religious freedom, with a vote for Newt Gingrich.”

Here are the facts:

In 2003, the Massachuesetts legislature passed a bill that would have restored cuts in state and federal funding to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Among other things, those cuts would have resulted in the closing of kosher kitchens in some facilities.

Romney vetoed the bill, not because he wanted to end kosher meals for Shoah survivors, but because he objected to restoring any of the cuts.

As things turned out, the elder care facilities came up with an alternative plan to continue supplying the kosher food, if an alternative was needed. It was not; the commonwealth’s legislators overrode Romney’s veto.

More important, according to JTA, “There is no evidence that anyone who wanted a kosher meal went without, or that Holocaust survivors would necessarily have been targeted by the measure.”

We have cautioned before against exaggerated or misleading political rhetoric, but this little snippet is too egregious for words: Holocaust survivors being told that other Holocaust survivors were denied kosher food. Although, as CNN reported, the former House speaker correctly disavowed the robocall, his campaign acknowledged being responsible for it.

It is not the first time that something emanating from Gingrich or his campaign has given us pause. Throughout the South Carolina primary, he talked about how the “centerpiece” of his campaign “is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.” In an interview with CNN, Gingrich said, “Saul Alinsky radicalism is at the heart of Obama.”

We understand what Gingrich may have meant. The Chicago-born son of Russian Jewish immigrant parents who died in 1972 perfected the art of community organizing. As some political scientists have noted, however, his current “heirs” are the Tea Party activists who have used his techniques to great advantage.

Most South Carolinians who turned out for Gingrich’s rallies probably never heard of Saul Alinsky, much less understood what Gingrich was trying to say, and Gingrich’s speeches did not come with annotated handouts explaining his references. All people heard was that the president’s spiritual mentor was some Jewish radical.

We are not suggesting that Gingrich is anti-Semitic, or that he intended to stir anti-Semitic feelings when he made his remarks. We are saying, however, that candidates need to be very careful with their words, because those words can be easily misused or misconstrued.

False charges have no place in a political campaign. Neither do false impressions.