Update 4: Gehret has formed a Jewish Coalition in reaction to the saga, lead by Michael Adler and Lynne Lechter. “Recordings of the Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel event show Sen. Leach’s speech was laced with innuendo that the GOP is anti-Semitic – moving blithely from noting that anti-Semitism is alive and well to falsely implying that the Republican Party opposes Judaism,” he said.
Update 3: PoliticsPA has obtained audio of Leach’s remarks from the Leach campaign. Bob Guzzardi, one of Gehret’s supporters who attested to the nature of his initial speech, said the audio matches his memory of the event. Here is the section of the speech that opponents have been referring to:
“…because of my name, and because I don’t necessarily look particularly Jewish, um, people don’t know I’m Jewish often, and then so I hear things that I would not hear if I was more obviously Jewish, and I am keenly aware that while we may have made great progress, anti-Semitism is still alive and well in parts of America and it’s important that we have a president of the United States that understands the importance of protecting religious minorities, and the importance of fighting for the separation of church and state…and…”
(applause from audience)
Sen. Daylin Leach: “…and it’s particularly important these days, because I’m going to be honest, the modern Republican party has become something that it was not when I was a young man growing up, which is a largely theocratic party, and the fact is that we have justices on the Supreme Court, and one of the most important things the president does is appoint judges, we have Justices on the Supreme Court who are very, very overt in saying that they are, not only in their interviews and their writings, but in their opinions, that say, ‘I am fighting for the religious convictions of my particular religion, to be the law of the land, no matter what religion other people may have.’ And, and we see that, uh, in decision after decision. And, you know, give you one example, school prayer. Okay. Coerced school prayer was what we had in this country up until the early sixties. There are at least four Justices on the Supreme Court who would like to go back to that. And I just say to my friends in this room, if we ever have government mandatory school prayer again, it will not be the Shema.”
Update 2: Gehret’s campaign emailed statements by two attendees of the event who corroborated his accusations of Leach:
“I attended the event Monday night at Congregation Keneseth Israel and Sen. Leach’s comments were precisely as Bill Lawrence described them,” Richard Chaitt of Havertown said of the blogger who initially wrote of the story. “Leach’s comments were offensive to Jewish Republicans and especially improper regarding Justice Scalia. To make matters even worse, he made those statements at a Jewish house of worship.”
“I was there Monday and I challenge Sen. Leach to unequivocally deny that he said Republicans are theocrats and anti-Semitic, that he said Justice Scalia is anti-Jewish family values.” Guzzardi said. “As for his accusation that I labelled Democrats as terrorists: that’s a clumsy attempt by Leach to deflect the spotlight away from his divisive commentary.”
Update: Today a video of the remarks made by Sen. Daylin Leach at Kenesseth Israel earlier this week was posted online. Leach said the video was not recorded by anyone associated with his campaign, and he therefore would not be able to edit it for content as his opponent claims.
Some of Leach’s comments at the beginning were cut off, but Leach said he had not been speaking for more than a few seconds before the recording began.
Still, Mike D’Amicantonio, the manager of his opponent Charles Gehret’s campaign, has said the video is “just the butt of a smoking gun.”
“Sen. Leach’s release today of a partial video begs the question: where is the footage of the first several minutes of his speech and why did he edit out those remarks? All of the people who attended the rally and contacted our campaign to express their outrage agree that Leach’s comments about anti-Semitic Republican theocrats were made before the edited video begins.”
In the 6-minute video, Leach takes on a handful of topics, the first being prayer in public schools.
He said that at least four Supreme Court justices would like to go back to mandatory prayer, and said that if the government were to mandate school prayer, “it will not be the Shema.”
He said voters need to evaluate what kind of justices Mitt Romney would nominate – and joked that Chief Justice John Roberts was Romney’s favorite, until the Obamacare decision, but that now his favorite is Antonin Scalia.
“What kind of justice will Barack Obama appoint?” he asked. “We already know, because he has a record of appointing two very qualified, very progressive women to the Supreme Court.”
Leach also mentioned women’s health, recognizing same-sex marriage, gerrymandering in the state and the impact of the Voter ID law – of which Leach has been a vocal opponent.
“I think it is clear what is going on here,” said Leach spokesperson Aren Platt. “Charles Gehret is a 25-year-old with no real experience, and Mr. Gehret chose to believe wildly false accusations made by a far-right-wing web site rather than do his own research, or make any effort whatsoever to verify the truth of the allegations he levied against Senator Leach.
“While it is easy to dismiss the ranting of someone as inexperienced as Mr. Gehret, it should also be acknowledged that anti-Semitism and racism are very real, and when someone running for political office fabricates allegations such as these for political gain, it does nothing to advance the dialogue.”
Today Republican state Senate candidate Charles Gehret criticized his opponent Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montco) of labelling Republicans as anti-Semitic, calling him the most divisive member of the PA legislature.
A press release from Gehret said that, according to published reports, Leach spoke to a crowd of 1,000-plus people Monday at the Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, and told them Republicans are anti-Semitic theocrats and that Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia is opposed to Jewish family values.
Going off of this report, Gehret said that Leach’s comments earn him the title, “Divider-in-Chief.”
“As usual, Sen. Leach would be comical if he weren’t so offensive,” Gehret said. “He actually accused the GOP of opposing the separation of church and state while standing at the podium of a synagogue talking politics. The 17th Senate District deserves serious, knowledgeable and unifying representation – someone who can work well with representatives of all stripes to get things done for his constituents.”
The Gehret press release also featured a comment from one of his supporters: attorney, real estate developer and conservative political activist Robert Guzzardi, a man who has donated tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservative GOP candidates.
Guzzardi said he was angered that Leach made inflammatory statements against the “only American political party standing strong for Israel.”
He also said the GOP is gaining Jewish members daily.
“Many of us are waking up to the inconsistencies of Barack Obama’s left wing Democrat Party tilting toward the Muslim Brotherhood. But to single out an esteemed justice of the Supreme Court for false and defamatory accusations? That is unsuitable discourse for an elected official and unacceptable to Pennsylvanians of all faiths.”
The Leach camp did not hesitate to respond.
According to the Leach campaign, the published report the Gehret campaign is referring to is the conservative Bill Lawrence blog, which wrote about the Leach appearance late Monday night – and used pretty much the same line of attack that appears in the Gehret statement:
“Leach…told the crowd that the Republican Party was full of anti-Semitism. He said, without irony in front of the synagogue’s podium, that the Republicans are theocrats who don’t believe in separation of church and state, all the while describing the importance of his Jewish values…When he spoke dismissively that Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia would be opposed by those with Jewish family values, he was rebutted from the audience with a cry of ‘not true’ stopping him cold.”
The Leach campaign not only denied that the Senator called Republicans anti-Semites, but said that relying on the Guzzardi statements that the Democratic Party is “tilting towards the Muslim Brotherhood” is more defamatory – and categorized Democrats as not only anti-Semitic by extension, but, also, as terrorists.
Not one to sit on the sidelines, Leach had a statement of his own for his challenger.
“This is outrageous. I understand that Mr. Gehret is 25 years old and has no actual real-life experience and I expect him to put out statements that are immature and silly,” Leach said.
“But this goes way beyond that. This is defamatory and unhinged. He needs to set the record straight. Not only for me, but for all the Democrats and Jewish Americans he has smeared with these comments.”
Leach chairs the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, and is a powerful political figure in the state dedicated to winning more seats for the Ds. While he is considered a liberal when it comes to most issues, he is also hawkishly pro-Israel, and has defended President Obama on numerous occasions to Jewish audiences in the southeastern part of the state.
Given that the district is moderate-to-liberal, GOP insiders hope to make this race a competitive one. And it could be – as a function of Gehret’s own personal wealth if he injects some of it into the campaign.