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Two Republican county officials in South Carolina apologized on Tuesday after they disparaged Jews in a newspaper opinion piece in support of a fiscally conservative US senator.
The chairmen, Edwin Merwin Jr. and Jim Ulmer, wrote the newspaper in backing Republican Sen. Jim DeMint's opposition to congressional earmarks - allocations that lawmakers insert into legislation to benefit pet projects in their home districts.
"There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves," according to the piece published Sunday in The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg.
DeMint called the comment thoughtless and hurtful Tuesday, and one of South Carolina's two Jewish legislators, Democratic state Sen. Joel Lourie, said he was outraged.
"The words of these key Republican leaders are disgusting, unconscionable and represent prejudice in its purest form," said Lourie.
He initially called for the chairmen to be removed but later said it was time to move past the issue.
Neither chairmen returned telephone messages from The Associated Press, but they released statements through the state Republican Party.
Ulmer, the Orangeburg County chairman, said the remark was "truly in admiration for a method of bettering one's lot in life" and he meant nothing derogatory.
Added Merwin, the Bamberg County chair: "I have always abhorred in the past, and shall continue to do so in the future, anti-Semitism in any form whatsoever. I ... beg that any and all who were offended will accept my deep felt apology."
The executive director of the Washington-based Republican Jewish Coalition said the chairmen should educate themselves about the history of the statement.
They "apparently believed that the image of the Jew as penny-pincher was a praise of Jewish frugality," Matthew Brooks said. "In fact, it dates back to the centuries of anti-Jewish persecution in Europe, when Jews were forbidden to own land or conduct any business other than money-lending, which was closed to Christians by Church law. It is an image of a kind and of a time with forcing Jews to wear a badge on their clothing or enclosing them in ghettos, cutting them off from religious, social, and economic freedom."
The Southeast director for the Anti-Defamation League said the apologies were not enough.
"The seeming ease with which these Republican leaders invoked age-old stereotypes of the Jewish people makes it clear that they need to engage actively in meaningful conversation with the Jewish community to understand why their remarks were so insensitive," Bill Nigut said.