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Is GOP attack ad in Pa. legislative race anti-Semitic? Democratic candidate says yes.

The ad shows the candidate holding a stack of $100 bills. "Reject Sara Rothman," it reads, dropping her maiden name.


A Democratic state House candidate in the Philadelphia suburbs has charged that her opponent is running an anti-Semitic attack ad in the wake of a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The video spot, paid for by Republican State Rep. Todd Stephens, alleges that "Sara Johnson Rothman never saw a tax increase she didn't like" and "wants to drastically raise our income taxes."

At the end of the ad, a digitally altered image of Johnson Rothman shows her holding a stack of $100 bills.

"Reject Sara Rothman," reads text superimposed on the illustration, dropping her maiden name.

The Democrat said her legal name is Sara Johnson Rothman, which she has used since marrying her husband, Scott Rothman, who is Jewish. She serves on the Upper Dublin school board.

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Stephens, who has represented part of Montgomery County since 2011, said Johnson Rothman's charges of anti-Semitism "defy reality."

"It's shameful my opponent is stooping this low for her own personal gain," he said. "This video is about her record of voting to take more of our hard-earned money with higher taxes every chance she got … period."

Johnson Rothman said, "You shouldn't play into people's biases and bigotry. I know it works. It works, obviously, for the president. But just because it works doesn't make it right."

She added, "They use 'Johnson Rothman' [earlier] in the ad. … But when they have me holding the cash, it's just 'Rothman.' That's just wrong."

(Stephens noted there is an image in the beginning of the ad that shows her with $100 bills that reads, "Sara Johnson Rothman Likes to Increase Taxes.")

Two mailings by the Pennsylvania Republican Party appear to drop the name "Johnson" almost entirely, referring to the candidate by her legal name only in fine print.

Laura Frank, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said the group "has taken a look at it and we do not find anything anti-Semitic about" Stephens' ad or the Pennsylvania GOP's mailings.

"We've worked with [Stephens] for many years, he's been a huge supporter of us," she said. "We've never experienced any anti-Semitic behavior from him or his staff."

Rabbi Joshua Waxman, president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia, said Stephens' ad made "use of, whether inadvertently or advertently, certain anti-Semitic tropes, and we need to be, especially at this time, going out of our way to avoid any insinuations."

"The images that are included in the ad are disturbing in any situation, and especially in the aftermath of what happened in Pittsburgh," he said.

Johnson Rothman said that Stephens' ad also contained numerous factual inaccuracies about her record. Stephens stood by the claims, citing several budget documents.

Stephens said, "This ad has been running for weeks on Facebook with over 15,000 people seeing it, and not one person has raised this meritless claim."

A mailing in a Connecticut state Senate race, which showed an illustration of a Jewish candidate grinning and grasping a fistful of $100 bills, drew national attention this week.

A report by the Anti-Defamation League found a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents reported in 2017 in the United States.

“When you’re running for office … you expect a certain amount of attack ads,” said Johnson Rothman. “But given what’s going on in our country right now, with, of course, the massacre that occurred over the weekend, this is the time we need to draw attention to things like this. This is going on even in our communities here in suburban Philly.”