Kentucky Politics

Jewish leaders are condemning antisemitic remarks made by a Republican Kentucky lawmaker last week during a debate over an anti-abortion bill.

On the floor of the state House of Representatives, Republican Rep. Danny Bentley of Russell invoked Jews and the Holocaust when talking about the origins of abortion medication, erroneously connecting the drug to the chemical agent Nazis used in gas chambers.

In response to a floor amendment from Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Marzian that would have exempted Jewish women from the abortion restrictions, Bentley made bizarre claims about their sex lives.

“Did you know that a Jewish woman has less cancer of the cervix than any other race in this country or this world?” Bentley said. “And why is that? Because the Jewish women only have one sex partner, that’s the reason. They don’t have multiple sex partners. To say that the Jewish people approve of this drug now is wrong.”

Melanie Maron Pell, chief field operations officer with the American Jewish Committee in Louisville, denounced Bentley’s false and harmful claims. 

“They need to really think hard before they open their mouths if they’re going to be spewing language that is so blatantly offensive,” Maron Pell said. “It had nothing to do with the Jewish community, it had nothing to do with Jews, this is a very sensitive debate and discussion about reproductive choice, and it just was so out of left field.”

Maron Pell said her organization and the Jewish Federation of Louisville have offered legislators a training opportunity about antisemitic tropes and terms. She said the effort could equip legislators with the knowledge to check themselves — and call out other hateful rhetoric.

“The first thing they can do is understand how and where their words may be construed as antisemitic,” Maron Pell said. “We expect our leaders to lead. And those words matter…we should not accept any of this becoming a normalized sort of thing.”

These are just the latest harmful comments about Jewish people at the statehouse recently. Two lawmakers used antisemitic metaphors when talking about negotiating state contracts during a committee hearing last month. 

A spokesperson for House Republicans didn’t respond to requests for comment.

On Twitter, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said “there is no place for antisemitism in Kentucky.”

“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,” Beshear said.

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.