Evidence has surfaced apparently rebutting the supposed claims of a New York State Senate candidate, a democratic socialist, that she is Jewish and an immigrant.
Julia Salazar, who is supported by Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, is running for a seat in Brooklyn’s 18th district. She has had numerous profiles in media outlets, some of which described her as Jewish. JTA referred to her as Jewish, Lilith magazine wrote that Salazar’s father was “a Sephardic Jew from Colombia”, and the Forward remarked that “her father was Jewish.” As The Times Of Israel notes, “The author of the Forward piece, Ben Fractenberg, told JTA that he recalls her saying that her father was Jewish.”
But a comprehensive report in Tablet, an online magazine, noted the seeming inconsistencies in Salazar’s story. Salazar’s brother Alex told Tablet, “There was nobody in our immediate family who was Jewish … my father was not Jewish, we were not raised Jewish.”
Salazar countered the claims that she is not Jewish by writing on Facebook Messenger, “My parents weren’t religious when my brother and I were growing up. Some of my extended family are Jewish; many are Catholic. Others converted from Judaism to Catholicism. My dad didn’t identify as Jewish (or any other religion, although his funeral was in a Catholic church).”
Armin Rosen, writing for Tablet, did not deny Salazar’s right to claim a Jewish identity, but pointed out that when she was an undergraduate at Columbia University she seemed to identify as a conservative Christian.
I went through a conversion process with a Reform rabbi at [Columbia-Barnard] Hillel in 2012. I don’t really bother to consider it a conversion because many people don’t respect Reform conversion. I essentially took a course and learned how to read Torah and had the option of going through a b’nai mitzvah ceremony (along with two other women who studied with me) but declined to do it. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. It also didn’t feel earnest to consider it a conversion because there was no religion for me to convert from. I know that might seem simplistic but it’s true and even halakhic.
When Salazar uses the word halakhic, she refers to the halachah, which means Jewish law. Yet by traditional Jewish standards, Jewish law requires that to be a Jew, a person’s mother must be Jewish or the convert must undergo conversion by a rabbinical court for the conversion to be authentic. Even among Reform Jews, who observe little if any of traditional Jewish law, a person has to at least have a father who is Jewish to be considered Jewish.
Salazar opined, “But I am Jewish, there’s no way for me to become un-Jewish except by converting to some other religion which I never intend to do. Even if the gatekeepers of Jewishness want to deny my Jewishness, that doesn’t really upset me.”
Alana Newhouse, editor of Tablet, fired back at Salazar for accusing Tablet of acting as a Jewish “gatekeeper.” She emailed JTA:
We have no test of, or opinions about, “who is or isn’t a Jew.” Indeed, much to the chagrin of our critics on the right, Tablet has always welcomed everyone into our Jewish tent — regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, denominational affiliation or lack thereof, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist, Wiccan, et al. Nor is this about a political test. When Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez was elected, we congratulated her — and we continue to wish her success.
Salazar did not respond to Tablet’s claim that she had been a practicing Christian.
As far as Salazar claiming to be an immigrant, Tablet noted Salazar told Jacobin Magazine, “My family immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia when I was a baby.” She also said at a Brooklyn forum on July 3, “My family immigrated from Colombia to the US when I was a little kid.”
But Salazar also told JTA that she was born in Miami, a claim she echoed in an interview last May with Village Voice reporter Emma Whitford. She told Whitford, “I was born in Miami but it’s kind of complicated. Basically my parents were living in Colombia at the time but my mom was a flight attendant when my parents met so they were sort of transient when my brother and I were really young. So we lived in Colombia and then my mom raised my brother and I in South Florida.”
Bari Weiss, a New York Times opinion editor and former Tablet editor, tweeted:
As Tablet noted, Salazar has strong leftist credentials:
From early 2016 through May of 2017 she was a Grace Paley Organizing Fellow with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ). Her fellowship biography identified her as senior editor of Unruly, the “intersectional blog” of the anti-Zionist and pro-BDS Jewish Voice for Peace’s Jews of Color and Sephardic/Mizrahi Caucus. Her last publicly listed job before running for office was as a staff organizer for JFREJ, which is a New York-based left-wing social and activist organization—Salazar was working with the group when it decided to honor the controversial activist Linda Sarsour with one of their annual Risk-Taker Awards.
The New York Daily News reported, “She has already been outed as a former Republican, and now a state senate candidate is under fire for neglecting to report her income as a nanny and leading an anti-abortion group in college.”