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Youngkin accused of antisemitism after claiming allies of Jewish donor George Soros ‘inserted’ operatives into Virginia school boards

Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee for Virginia governor, greets supporters during an Oct. 11 event at a sports bar in Chesapeake, Va. (Steve Helber/AP)

A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. The article has been corrected.

GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin is facing allegations of antisemitism after accusing allies of Jewish philanthropist George Soros of a shadowy campaign to place secret political operatives onto Virginia school boards.

In an appearance Tuesday night at a rally at the Burke Volunteer Fire Department, Youngkin tried to link Soros, his Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe and cultural debates roiling some suburban Northern Virginia public school systems. In particular, some parents are protesting equity initiatives they associate with critical race theory, an intellectual movement that examines the way policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism.

“The present chaos in our schools lays squarely at the feet of 40-year politician Terry McAuliffe. It just does,” Youngkin said at an appearance Tuesday night. “But also at George Soros-backed allies, these allies that are in the left, liberal-progressive movement. They’ve inserted political operatives into our school system disguised as school boards.”

What to know about the 2021 Virginia governor’s race

When Youngkin, who some polls show is tied with McAuliffe, said Soros’s name, some in the crowd of about 700 people hooted and hollered.

Soros is a Hungarian-born billionaire who has given tens of billions to charity, in particular through his pro-democracy Open Society Foundations grant network. His critics sometimes use antisemitic tropes to characterize him, such as the suggestion that Jewish people are secretly pulling society’s strings.

“Evoking George Soros as a shadowy funder is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. This is an unacceptable statement from Glenn Youngkin,” Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), who is Jewish, tweeted Wednesday evening.

In an email, spokesman Matt Wolking called the claim “ridiculous partisan nonsense.” He responded to Luria on Twitter by claiming Soros had funneled money to the congresswoman because he had donated to a pair of political action committees that gave money to her.

On Friday, Wolking noted that Rabbi Aryeh Spero, president of a Jewish group billed as “battling for the soul of America,” called the criticism “specious chutzpah” in an interview with the Jewish Voice.

“[T]his accusation is just another dishonest attempt to win an election by playing the ‘anti-Semitism card,’ ” he told the paper, contending that Soros has made himself a “legitimate object of criticism” as a Democratic megadonor.

Asked for examples of Soros’s backing school board candidates in Virginia, Wolking sent The Washington Post links to articles about money connected with Soros going to prosecutor races but nothing about school board candidates. In 2019, the Soros-funded Justice and Public Safety PAC spent nearly $1 million to promote liberal challengers in the Democratic primary races for prosecutor in Arlington and Fairfax counties.

Some Jewish groups had previously expressed concern about Youngkin during the campaign.

Youngkin, McAuliffe clash in final debate of Virginia governor’s race

Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, told Jewish site the Forward earlier this month that “Youngkin is not disassociating himself” from Republicans in the state using antisemitism and bigotry as a political strategy.

A campaign mailer authorized by Republican House of Delegates candidate Harold Pyon depicted the Jewish Democrat he is trying to unseat gazing over stacks of gold coins, his nose shaded or digitally altered to seem larger. Del. Dan Helmer (D-Fairfax), the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, called it antisemitic. Pyon, a Korean immigrant, called the allegation “unfounded” and described himself as an ally of the Jewish community.

Youngkin, whose PAC gave $13,000 to Pyon, declined to comment when the mailing surfaced earlier this month.

Republican House candidate Hahns Copeland tweeted in September that he was “surprised to see a pair of eyes and a mouth with that NOSE” in response to a video of House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), who is Jewish. Copeland, who later apologized for the tweet, received $3,000 from Youngkin’s PAC in his race against incumbent Del. Jerrauld C. “Jay” Jones (D-Norfolk).

In July, Democrats also rebuked Julie Perry, a Republican running for a delegate seat in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, for comparing the plight of conservative teachers to Jews in Nazi Germany. Perry, who received $3,000 from Youngkin’s PAC, later said in a statement: “It was never my intention to be disrespectful.”

The Forward noted that Youngkin had appeared on the radio show of Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump administration official with ties to antisemitic groups in his native Hungary.

Karina Elwood contributed to this report.