FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday 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, who represents parts of Greenup County, commented Wednesday 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.
Bentley discussed the sexual habits of Jewish women in sweeping terms 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.”
In the committee hearing last month, Thomas made the first use of an anti-Jewish slur, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. Girdler repeated Thomas’ words but quickly acknowledged their impropriety, the newspaper reported.
Thomas said he had heard the phrase throughout his life and apologized, the newspaper reported.
Democratic state Sen. Karen Berg, who is Jewish, said the remarks spurring the controversy were “deeply disturbing.” Antisemitic rhetoric “fans the flames of division in our country,” she said.
“As elected officials, our job is to represent Kentuckians of all backgrounds and dispel misinformation,” she said Thursday. “We have come a long way, but we must do better in opening our hearts and minds and educating ourselves on the realities of others.”