Florida state Rep. Randy Fine (R) is facing backlash after referring to a Jewish constituent on Facebook as a “Judenrat,” a term for a Nazi-installed council made up of Jewish members during World War II.
Fine, who also is Jewish, used the word to attack Paul Halpern, 68, of Palm Bay, Florida, who commented on a Facebook post the state lawmaker wrote on April 4, as first reported by the Orlando Sentinel.
Jews often viewed Judenrat members during the war as traitors. Halpern said he considered the term a slur and “the worst thing that you can call a Jewish person.”
In his initial post, Fine railed against a panel discussion organized for that night by the Space Coast Progressive Alliance to examine the Israel-Palestine conflict. He claimed the event, called “Palestine/Israel, Opening the Dialogue,” would be “an anti-Semitic rally targeting Jews sponsored by a Democrat club.”
Halpern, a member of the Space Coast Progressive Alliance and the main organizer of the panel discussion, pushed back on Fine’s claim, commenting after the event that “nothing anti-Semitic” took place.
“Questioning the policies of the Israeli government is not anti-Semitic,” Halpern wrote, adding that Fine was not in attendance. “Three of the five panelists were Jewish.”
The panelists included Adi Davidov, an Israeli student studying in the U.S.; civil rights lawyer Alan Levine; progressive activist Raed Alshaibi; Jews Against Anti-Muslim Racism co-founder Donna Nevel; and Rasha Mubarak, former regional chair of the Council on Islamic-American Relations.
Fine, who has been in office since 2016, replied by saying he doesn’t remember meeting Halpern and asking what congregation he belongs to.
″#JudencratDontCount,” Fine commented. He added later: “I know that Judenrat liked to keep tabs on all the Jews in order to report back to the Nazis back in that time, but no one is making you continue that tradition today.”
Halpern commented that he reported Fine’s post as “hate speech” to Facebook and encouraged people to “remember this when he runs for re-election.”
Neither Fine nor Facebook immediately responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
Halpern, who says he was raised in a Jewish community by Jewish parents, told HuffPost that the exchange left him feeling “outraged and deeply insulted.”
“In my mind, Judenrat is the worst thing that you can call a Jewish person,” he said. “He’s despicable as a representative and a person.”
Fine’s comments echo hateful rhetoric used by President Donald Trump, conservative lawmakers and Fox News personalities to attack Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) over her criticism of the Israeli government. The right has falsely painted Omar’s comments as anti-Semitic, though she has repeatedly noted she’s criticizing a foreign government and not Jewish people.
Halpern said the panel discussion, meant to provide Floridians with more information about the Palestinian plight, was partly inspired by Trump’s attacks on Omar. He said he believes the president’s comments have emboldened others to “say whatever they want no matter how hurtful or immoral it may be.”
“The president is that somebody that we’re supposed to look up to, supposed to be the moral leader of the country, but he has lowed the bar of morality to the point where you could trip over it,” Halpern said. “Anything that’s seen as critical of Israel, people are accused of being anti-Semitic.”
He continued: “I’m Jewish. I’m a supporter of Israel and its right to exist. But I’m not a supporter of victimizing other people on behalf of one’s beliefs.”
Halpern said he believes Fine should resign and is calling on other state lawmakers to at least pressure the representative to be more inclusive.
A representative for Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva (R) did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.