Rick Perry
Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry Photo by AP
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American Jewish leaders are expressing concern over declarations by Republican presidential candidates that emphasize the candidates' Christian faith and their devotion to religious values. Jewish leaders firmly reject suggestions, however, that an attack by candidate Rick Perry, the Texas governor, on Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke during a campaign speech in Iowa earlier this week was anti-Semitic in nature. Bernanke is Jewish.

"If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don't know what you would do with him," Perry reportedly said. "We would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous - or treasonous - in my opinion."

Jewish leaders were at pains to dispel concerns that the speech was motivated by anti-Semitism. For his part, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said Perry's choice of language in attacking Bernanke was inappropriate and unbecoming of a candidate for president of the United States, but had no connection to Bernanke's Jewish identity. This position was echoed by Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Nonetheless, Foxman expressed concern that Perry has made religion a dominant theme of his race for the 2012 presidential election, saying Perry was suggesting that voters support his candidacy because of his Christian devotion. Foxman called this stance a blatant violation of the Constitutional separation of religion and state.

For his part, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who is Jewish, came to the defense of Perry and another devout Christian Republican presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann. Appearing on WOR radio in New York, the senator reportedly said: "If a person's faith matters to them, first it's their right in our country to say whatever they want. They don't lose that right under the Constitution just because they become a candidate for public office. But the second thing is this is the history of our country, our country was founded on religious faith."