A group of rabbis in Montana sent an open letter to Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines this week following his recent Tweet in support of Pres. Donald Trump.
On Monday, Senator Steve Daines Tweeted, “Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals.”
It came following Tweets from Pres. Trump telling unnamed Democratic Congresswomen to go back and fix the places they came from.
Five people from the Montana Association of Rabbis, a coalition of Jewish leaders in the state, sent an open letter to multiple newspapers in Montana on Wednesday in response.
It says, “We do not feel safer or supported by Senator Daines' comments, rather we fear the legitimization the president and the senator are giving to racism, xenophobia, misogyny and hatred."
The letter denounces what the rabbis say is Daines’ alignment with recent Tweets by President Trump and a rhetoric of hate.
Student Rabbi Erik Uriarte, who serves a congregation in Billings and says he speaks only for himself, signed the letter.
He says he takes issue with Daines’ use of loaded terms like “anti-American,” especially as a Jew of Nicaraguan descent who is a U.S. citizen.
“I have been told by people who didn’t really know me, 'go back to the country you came from.' So, regardless of whether or not I agree or disagree with the target of Senator Daines’ Tweet, that type of language as a Jew, as a Latino, is just not acceptable or appropriate and needs to be called out,” says Uriarte.
He says he also finds Daines’ use of “anti-Semite” in this context problematic, especially when used by someone who does not identify as Jewish.
“Anybody who is a sincere ally, I welcome, but I also really hope that they come out and meet us in our communities and understand what anti-Semitism is,” he says.
Mark Kula, a post-denominational rabbi in Bozeman and Missoula, also signed off on the letter.
Kula says Trump’s original Tweets for the Congresswomen to go back where they came from brings back historical memories of what’s happened in the past to other populations and minorities in the country.
“Because once President Trump did his Tweets, to just join on board with just a few words, key phrases, to push buttons, was of concern to us, and that’s why felt we had to speak up,” says Kula.
Not all rabbis in the state reacted that way.
Chaim Bruk is an Orthodox Rabbi based in Bozeman and executive director of a Jewish outreach organization with three branches in the state. He says he’s been friends with Daines for years.
Bruk is not a member of the Montana Association of Rabbis and disagrees with the letter itself.
“I think it’s sort of insinuating that he is not a supporter or not an understander of the Jewish community or somehow he sympathizes with white supremacy or with anti-Semitism, which is ludicrous,” says Bruk.
Bruk says Daines has been vocal in his support of the Jewish community and says he feels supported by all of Montana’s officials.
Daines was one of the representatives to sign a bi-partisan letter denouncing a planned neo-Nazi march in Whitefish in 2016, along with U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Governor Steve Bullock, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and then-U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke.
In a statement to YPR News, Daines spokesperson Julia Doyle wrote, “Steve is a strong supporter of Israel and the Jewish people. And as you saw in his recent tweet, he believes the anti-Semitic rhetoric from radical Democratic lawmakers is astounding.”
Doyle also wrote, “Steve would be happy to find a time to meet with Montana’s rabbis.”
As of Thursday afternoon, rabbis that signed the letter said they have not heard from Daines.