Anti-Semitism Rocks Congressional Race in Tennessee

April 20, 2022

An anti-Semitic remark made by a Tennessee state lawmaker who successfully campaigned to remove Morgan Ortagus, a Trump-endorsed Jewish candidate, from the primary ballot has the former State Department spokeswoman up in arms.

The Republican state senator who led the charge to get Ortagus booted from the primary ballot said only Jewish people in Trump's orbit—his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner—would care about their campaign to boot her from the ballot.

"I don’t think Trump cares one way or the other," State Senator Frank Niceley said in an interview last month in defense of removing Ortagus from the ballot. "I think Jared Kushner—he’s Jewish, she’s Jewish—I think Jared will be upset. Ivanka will be upset. I don’t think Trump cares."

Ortagus, who served as the State Department spokeswoman during the Trump administration, told the Washington Free Beacon that Niceley invoked one of the "oldest and most vile forms of hatred" in order to discredit her candidacy to represent Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District in Congress.

"Unfortunately, Senator Niceley's offensive and anti-Semitic remarks are not an isolated incident. This is a clear pattern of behavior of an entrenched politician whose disdain for the Jewish people is plain for all to see," Ortagus said. "I'm a proud part of the Jewish people and will always stand up against anti-Semitism, one of the oldest and most vile forms of hatred in the world. Senator Niceley's rhetoric is as disappointing as his character, and I call on my fellow Tennessee Republicans to join me in calling out anti-Semitism in all forms."

Ortagus and two other Republican candidates were removed from the ballot late Tuesday after the state party deemed them ineligible to run, citing bylines mandating that candidates vote in the three of the last four statewide Republican primaries. With Trump’s endorsement and her Republican bonafides, Ortagus was seen as the likely nominee and frontrunner to win the race this November.

Niceley, in a statement to the Free Beacon, said his remarks were taken out of context.

"In an extended interview with NBC News, a fake news reporter decided to take a small portion of my comments out of context in order to manufacture a controversy to distract people from the fact that Morgan Ortagus was declared ineligible for the ballot by both the Tennessee Republican Party and the General Assembly," Niceley said. "Let me be clear: I have nothing but respect for the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Attempting to construe my off-hand comments about the Trump family as antisemitism is unfair and inaccurate."

Beth Harwell, one of the likely Republican nominees who is supported by Niceley, did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment on his remarks.

Niceley’s focus on Ortagus’s Jewish faith is the latest in a string of anti-Semitic comments that have dogged the state lawmaker.

Earlier this month, for instance, Niceley took to the Tennessee Senate floor to deliver what he called a "history lesson" on Hitler’s time living as a homeless person.

"Hitler decided to live on the streets for a while," Niceley said during a discussion about homelessness in the state. "So for two years, Hitler lived on the streets and practiced his oratory, and his body language, and how to connect with citizens and then went on to lead a life that got him in the history books. ... It’s not a dead end. They can come out of these homeless camps and have a productive life—or in Hitler’s case, a very unproductive life."

In 2016, Niceley tweeted that "Hitler and his plebiscites were democracy in action," comments that also were criticized as anti-Semitic and out of bounds.

Ortagus has championed her Jewish faith, and the Jerusalem Post listed her as the seventh-most-influential Jewish person in 2020. During her time at the State Department, Ortagus condemned anti-Semitism amid a rising surge in attacks on Jewish people in the United States and Europe.