A haunting new political ad, which features the mourner’s Kaddish and hits out at U.S. President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, is courting controversy.
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In the 30-second spot, small stones are placed on a grave, in keeping with Jewish tradition, while a count of the coronavirus death toll racing above 200,000 is displayed. As a mourner chants the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead, Trump’s voice is heard making public statements downplaying, dismissing and expressing false optimism about COVID-19.
These include “No, I don’t take responsibility at all.” “The numbers are getting very good.” And “They are dying, that’s true! It is what it is.” Also heard is Trump’s taped interview with Bob Woodward in which he admitted, “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.”
The video, released on Tuesday by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, is part of a $500,000 ad buy aimed at Jewish voters in battleground states like Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“This ad highlights the recklessness and utter lack of leadership that has defined Donald Trump’s approach to the coronavirus. Even since he contracted the virus, the president has demonstrated a complete disregard for the sanctity of human life, which is a core Jewish value,” said JDCA Executive Director Halie Soifer.
“Jewish Americans mourn those lost due to COVID, and are committed to electing Joe Biden in order to restore empathy, compassion and leadership to the White House,” she added.
For JDCA Chair Rep. Ron Klein, the reciting of Kaddish in the ad was not merely performative. He noted that he, like thousands of other Jews around the country, was saying Kaddish right now for his loved ones who had fallen victim to COVID-19.
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“Each Saturday, my father and I attended shul together until he contracted and succumbed to the virus a few months ago," he told Haaretz. “The Jewish community in South Florida, including my own family, has been deeply impacted by this devastating disease. The magnitude of this tragedy could have been avoided.”
Spiritual leaders affiliated with the organization, like Minneapolis Rabbi Michael Latz, endorsed the ad.
“The fact that we are saying Kaddish for more than 210,000 Americans because of Donald Trump’s abject incompetence and failure to lead during this pandemic is an absolute shande,” Latz said, using the Yiddish word for disgrace.
The Republican Jewish Coalition hit back at the effort, with Executive Director Matt Brooks telling the Jewish News Syndicate: “This ad does nothing to win over undecided voters; it’s awful. If a voter already feels Trump mishandled the virus, then they’re already voting for Biden.”
The video was the second hard-hitting ad released by the JDCA in recent weeks. Last week, the group unveiled a 30-second spot comparing Trump’s presidency to the rise of fascism in Germany.
That ad was condemned by some antisemitism watchdog groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, but endorsed by others, including Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt and former ADL national director Abraham Foxman. They said they felt the parallels between Trump’s rhetoric and the Nazis’ behavior as they ascended to power were legitimate.