Fact Check: George Santos – George Santos said he “never claimed to be Jewish.” That’s Pants on Fire!

Fact Check: George Santos – George Santos said he “never claimed to be Jewish.” That’s Pants on Fire!

Since being elected to Congress in November, Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., has come under intense scrutiny after numerous falsehoods about his personal and professional life emerged publicly.

Santos, who won an open-seat race in a district in Queens and Long Island, gave his most extensive response to allegations of dishonesty during a 40-minute interview with British talk show host Piers Morgan. The Feb. 20 interview appeared on the Fox Nation streaming service and in the United Kingdom.

“I’ve been a terrible liar on those subjects, and what I tried to convey to the American people is, I made mistakes,” Santos said.

During the interview, Morgan pressed Santos on several claims he’s made that have been questioned, including that his mother worked in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001; that he had attended the prestigious Horace Mann prep school; and that he worked for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.

In the interview, Morgan repeatedly raised contrary information media outlets had uncovered.

But perhaps the most contentious exchange involved Santos’ claims of Jewish heritage. As a candidate, Santos said his grandparents fled persecution in then-Soviet Ukraine and Belgium during World War II.

Being Jewish would have paid political dividends for a candidate running in a district with a significant Jewish population, and it opened doors with such groups as the Republican Jewish Coalition. That organization has since said Santos “will not be welcome” in the future because he “misrepresented his heritage.”

Being Jewish would also have fit with Santos’ portrayal of himself as a barrier-breaking candidate who was also Latino, gay, and Republican.

However, the Forward, a New York City-based Jewish publication, reported after Santos was elected that his maternal grandparents were both born in Brazil before the Nazis came to power in Germany. 

When journalists confronted him with such evidence, Santos said he made clear that he was raised Catholic rather than Jewish and had only joked about being “Jew-ish.”

Here, we’ll keep our focus narrow. We won’t look at whether Santos is or isn’t Jewish, or whether he had family members who fled the Holocaust. Rather, we’ll look at whether Santos is correct to say he “never claimed to be Jewish.”

The answer is clear from interviews and a position paper: Santos is misrepresenting his prior comments.

What Santos told Morgan

Here’s their exchange on Morgan’s show.

Morgan: “You claim to be Jewish, but you’re not Jewish.”

Santos: “I never claimed to be Jewish. I’ve always made a party favor joke which —”

Morgan: “You claimed to be ‘Jewish,’ ‘half-Jewish,’ a ‘proud American Jew,’ a ‘Latino Jew’ and a ‘non-observant Jew.’ They’re all direct quotes from you. You’re not. You’re Catholic. Like me. I’m a Catholic.”

Santos: “Piers, I’ve always made this as a party favor joke and I’ve done it on stages across this country.”

Morgan: “What’s funny about falsely claiming you’re Jewish?”

Santos: “No, no, no, not falsely claiming I’m Jewish. I’d always say I was raised Catholic but I come from a Jewish family, so that makes me ‘Jew-ish.’ It’s always been a party favor. Everybody’s always laughed. And now that everybody’s canceling me, everybody’s pounding down for a pound of flesh.”

Morgan: “Because you’re not Jewish!”

Santos: “Well I never said I was!”

Morgan: “You did! You repeatedly said you were!”

Santos: “And I would always say, but my grandparents are on my mother’s side, so I’m Jew-ish. That was always a joke. Everybody used to laugh it up. I said it to a room with 1,000 people in November. People were hysterically laughing. It was funny to them. They loved it.”

Morgan: “I don’t think Jewish people find it funny.”

Santos: “They were Jewish. I was in a room with the Republican Jewish Coalition.”

Morgan: “Do you think Jewish people will find it funny that a U.S. congressman who’s a Catholic with no apparent background of any Jewish heritage whatsoever, other than you say you have it — no one can find it — I think a lot of Jewish people would find that offensive.”

Santos: “I beg to differ, when we were at the RJC in November.”

Santos repeatedly said he was Jewish in 2022 campaign interviews

We found at least six instances in which Santos unambiguously described himself as Jewish. (Hat tip to the Forward’s research on this subject.)

• May 17, 2022: On the Ari Hoffman Show, a conservative talk show in New York, Santos said: “I am a Latino Jew.” 

• June 29, 2022: In an interview with conservative commentator Jeremy Ryan Slate, Santos said: “I’m a good old Catholic, right, but with a Jewish mother. I am half Jewish, half Catholic.”

• July 15, 2022: Appearing again on the Ari Hoffman Show, Santos said: “I’m a Latino Jew.”

• October 2022: At a U.S.-Israel PAC event at Mo’s Bagels & Deli in Aventura, Florida, Santos said: “I’m halachically Jewish,” Andy Fiske, a U.S.-Israel PAC official, and one other person present told Jewish Insider. (“Halachically” means “under Jewish law,” which has specific rules for who is and who isn’t considered Jewish.)

• Nov. 10, 2022: In an interview with conservative host Guy Benson after he won his seat, Santos said: “I’m going to be one of two Jewish Republican freshmen.”

• Undated, 2022: In a position paper on Middle East policy, Santos called himself a “proud American Jew.”

(Screenshot, courtesy the Forward)

PolitiFact reviewed the context of these six comments and did not find caveats about being only “Jew-ish.”

Santos was more cautious when describing himself as Jewish in some other interviews.

For instance, in an interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday, he said, “I grew up Catholic. I know about the heritage. I respect it, but I don’t go around claiming to be Jewish. … I don’t want to claim things I’m not.”

Although it’s possible that Santos used the “Jew-ish” label as a candidate in events that weren’t recorded, the only documented examples are from December 2022, after questions were raised about his prior statements. Santos used the formulation in Dec. 26 interviews with the New York Post and the news organization City & State New York.

He also used it while being interviewed on the Dec. 27, 2022, edition of Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” Santos was pressed by former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, on his past invocations of being Jewish. He told Gabbard, “My heritage is Jewish. I’ve always identified as Jewish.” He added that he was “raised a practicing Catholic” and “always joked” with friends that “I’m Jew-ish.”

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Jacob Kornbluh, a Forward journalist who has tracked down Santos’ past comments on being Jewish, told PolitiFact that he “found it deeply offensive that the ‘Jew-ish’ clarification came only after his goals were achieved and he was elected to Congress.”

Santos’ press office did not respond to an inquiry for this article.

Our ruling

Santos said, “I never claimed to be Jewish.”

However, there are a half-dozen documented instances in which Santos unambiguously referred to himself as Jewish. They include two interviews in which he called himself “a Latino Jew,” interviews in which he variously called himself “half Jewish,” “halachically Jewish,” and “one of two Jewish Republican freshmen.” There’s also a position paper in which he called himself a “proud American Jew.”

We rate the statement Pants on Fire!

Source: PolitiFact.

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