44th STATE SENATE DISTRICT- The Anti-Defamation League’s regional office has condemned the anonymous Kennedy Project for using Nazi imagery in a swipe against Democratic candidate Michelle Ostrelich’s state Senate campaign.
In an Oct. 16 tweet, the Kennedy Project alleged “performative outrage” inside the campaign of Ostrelich — who is Jewish — following one of the shadow group’s attacks from the left, and likened staffers’ reactions to a meme depicting a satirical German officer questioning Nazi morality.
“Clearly, the Kennedy Project is using Nazi imagery, Holocaust imagery and somehow applying that to a candidate, which is already bad enough,” said New York/New Jersey ADL Regional Director Scott Richman. “It happens to be a Jewish candidate and that, to me, is reprehensible.”
Ostrelich previously served as president of Schenectady Jewish Community Center in Niskayuna. The majority of Ostrelich’s campaign staff is also Jewish.
NY/NJ ADL aims to avoid addressing specific political bids in order to preserve its nonprofit status. Because the Kennedy Project is an anonymous, unregistered group, Richman said criticism is fair game.
Between 2020 and 2021, the number of reported antisemetic incidents in New York spiked 24% to a 42-year-high, according to ADL data. The Kennedy Project’s social media post disregards a tense moment, the regional ADL director said.
“We’ve seen a rise in this unfortunately where Holocaust imagery, Nazi imagery is all being used to somehow denigrate candidates that people don’t like,” Richman said.
The Kennedy Project in a statement defended their use of such imagery under the grounds that the original content, now a meme, was a critique of the Trump administration by Jewish comedian David Mitchell.
The anonymous group gave the following statement in response to questions from The Daily Gazette:
“We condemn antisemitism in all forms. Our video and messaging is in opposition to the Far-Right, including, specifically, the extremist New York State Conservative Party, which candidate Ostrelich has solicited the endorsement of and donated money to.”
Rev. Amaury Tañón-Santos, executive director of Schenectady Community Ministries, described the tweet as troublesome and counter to community efforts for social solidarity. SiCM members represent more than 50 faith communities.
Rabbi Matt Cutler of Schenectady’s Congregation Gates of Heaven on Twitter demanded that tweet be removed. When a user pointed out to Cutler that the tweet was from a British comedy program, the faith leader doubled down.
“To relate anything to death of millons of Jews for genocide, you better be real careful,” Cutler later told the Daily Gazette. “We don’t want it to be flippant. We don’t want to make it a dig because it denigrates the millions of people who died.”
Approximately six million Jews died during the Holocaust at the hands of Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945.
Rabbi Rafi Spitzer of Schenectady’s Congregation Agudat Achim called Kennedy Project’s tweet “extremely” hurtful and bigoted. “It violates any notion of campaign civility, it’s tone deaf, and it isn’t also productive with respect to a debate on substantive issues,” said Spitzer. “But to do it specifically against a Jewish candidate and the candidate’s Jewish staff is not just tone deaf. It’s down right antisemetic.”
The Kennedy Project has routinely attacked the now-Schenectady County legislator’s progressive bonafides on issues ranging from reproductive rights to workers’ rights since mid-October, and has casted her opponent, state Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, as a superior alternative.
The 44th state Senate District Democratic challenger demanded that Tedisco denounce the Nazi tweet.
“He also knows that I’m Jewish — it’s no secret — and many in my campaign are Jewish,” Ostrelich said. “He has a responsibility and remaining silent, like I said, silence is complicity.”
Tedisco spokesperson Adam Kramer in a statement reported that the Republican campaign, until The Daily Gazette sent a request for comment, hadn’t seen the tweet from Ostrelich’s “fellow Democrats.” (The Kennedy Project claims it’s run by a group of lifelong Democrats unaffiliated with any candidate or PAC).
“It is disconcerting and wrong,” Kramer said of the social media post.
The spokesperson then pointed to recently leaked audio from a private Democratic candidate forum in the spring, which featured Ostrelich appearing to compare guns featured at a Hamilton County Republican Committee event to a banquet in Schenectady’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood. Ostrelich received some criticism from both the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association and Hamilton County GOP.
The Tedisco team, Kramer added, still demands an apology for residents in both regions.
“So far, all those residents have heard from her desperate and failing campaign is the sound of silence,” Kramer said.
Ostrelich has previously contended that her so-called inarticulate remarks were intended to describe the importance of working beyond negative tropes associated with low-income neighborhoods of color while canvassing.
Matt Nelligan of the Schenectady Republican Committee, who has denied any Kennedy Project association, secured the audio from an unidentified source and circulated it out Oct. 6. The Kennedy Project launched its first attack video the same day.
Schenectady County Democratic Committee Chairman Frank Salamone filed a Board of Elections ethics complaint against the “dark money” group last week, claiming the unregistered group’s lack of transparency violates campaign law.
The Kennedy Project didn’t disclose the names of its operators in response to a request by the Daily Gazette.