Two GOP legislators from Kentucky’s Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee apologized after making an antisemitic statement while discussing a state lease agreement on Tuesday.
Representative Walker Thomas and Committee Chairman Senator Rick Girdler–who are both Republican–used the phrase “Jew them down" when asking to lower the price on a lease.
According to the Kentucky Herald, the phrase was first uttered by Representative Thomas following a presentation given by Scott Aubrey, the Director of the Division of Real Properties.
When the Committee Chairman asked if there were any questions after Aubrey's briefing, Thomas was heard laughing on a hot mic after asking if the state could “jew them down on the price.”
You can watch the video, below.
Warning: disturbing language.
Senator Girdler echoed the phase and said, “We’ve got a representative up here (asking) if you could Jew them down a little bit on the price."
Moments later, he corrected himself, adding, "That ain’t the right word to use. ‘Drop them down,’ I guess.”
When the clip of the two legislators casually dropping the offensive phrase was released to the public, they were met with immediate backlash.
The American Jewish Committee condemned the two lawmakers for their use of the objectionable phrase.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, the Committee argued the term "Jew down" was an antisemitic expression that “'plays into the trope of Jews as greedy money handlers who are unwilling to part with their earnings.'"
The American Jewish Committee's Translate Hate Glossary on their website further explained why the phrase is offensive.
"Rooted in the false stereotype that Jews are cheap or stingy, the phrase 'Jew down' may seem to be a harmless expression that’s used in everyday vernacular."
"However, it is an insulting, antisemitic misrepresentation of Jewish behavior that plays into the trope of Jews as greedy money handlers who are unwilling to part with their earnings."
"The common, mainstream use of antisemitic terms, like Jew down, plays a dangerous role in normalizing antisemitism and reinforcing conspiracy theories in the minds of antisemites."
In response to the uproar among the Jewish community, Thomas responded with a statement of apology to the Herald-Leader, saying it was a phrase he's heard "throughout [his] life."
“I sincerely regret using that term and apologize to anyone harmed by my use of it. This is not who I am, nor is it what my faith leads me to be,” Thomas said.
“It is a phrase I have heard throughout my life, but this experience has provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the impact that words have and the fact that we must be smarter today than we were yesterday.“
Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, executive director of Chabad of the Bluegrass and chairman of the Kentucky Jewish Council, also spoke out.
He called the phrase a “dangerous relic of a hateful bygone era” that has no place in Kentucky.
“The phrase ‘Jew them down’ Is an extremely offensive one, with a long and bloody history of use against the Jewish community,”
Litvin also said he was “extremely surprised” to hear Girdler–whom he knows and respects–repeat the phrase Thomas had just used.
Girdler also apologized, saying he was “deeply sorry if I offended anyone,” adding, "I have no hate or malice in my heart for anyone in the Jewish community.”
Melanie Maron Pell, AJC Chief Field Operations Officer who is based in Louisville, said that while "belated apologies" were welcome, the use of the phrase by elected officials perpetuates a harmful stereotype.
“Certainly, there are plentiful words and phrases in the English language to use in making a point in the state legislature without succumbing to traditional, derogatory references to Jews."
"Elected officials must be among the first to recognize the harm derogatory terms can cause, especially when antisemitism is on the rise in the United States.”
Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge also weighed in on the controversy and said the lawmakers' use of the phrase was reflective of the conservative party’s values.
“This is more offensive, divisive and hateful language from Republican legislators that have no place in our society and absolutely no place coming from elected leaders in our state Capitol,” wrote Elridge.
“... Unfortunately, no one is surprised or shocked because, at every turn, the Republican supermajority has shown us who they are by prioritizing division, hate and discrimination over priorities and legislation that build a better Kentucky and bring our people together.”