Sullivan ad criticized for ‘anti-Semitic’ images

The campaign of Sen. Dan Sullivan is taking heat for an ad it ran against challenger Al Gross that critics say is anti-Semitic.

The online ad imposes a photo of Gross behind a pile of hundred dollar bills. Over Gross’s shoulder is a shadowy image of a face – that of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Like Schumer, Gross is Jewish.

Sen. Dan Sullivan’s campaign ran this online ad for about a week. It’s drawn allegations of anti-Semitism.

“I have to assume that Dan Sullivan didn’t see this,” said state Sen. Jesse Kiehl. “And when he sees it, he’s going to take it down and make a statement that he disavows anti-Semitism.”

Kiehl is Jewish and represents northern Southeast Alaska. In the final days of his campaign two years ago, a local group ran an ad against him that critics said was anti-Semitic.

Kiehl said the Sullivan ad layers images that have been used to vilify Jews for centuries – evoking a boogeyman, control of money and secret power.

“When you put all three together, then you’re sending a specific message that’s really as old as hatred and has been aimed specifically at Jews,” he said.

Sullivan campaign manager Matt Shuckerow said the ad was produced in-house and only meant to highlight a key theme of the campaign – that Gross is getting a lot of money from liberals outside of Alaska.

“Any suggestion that the senator or his campaign is anti-Semitic is just plain wrong,” Shuckerow said.

The Anti-Defamation League criticized the ad on Twitter.

So did a member of Israel’s Parliament. 

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz published a story about it.

Some Alaskans, even some who support Gross, said on social media they don’t view the ad as anti-Semitic. Others say it’s the shadowy face in the background, more than the cash, that calls to mind images of anti-Jewish propaganda.

Retired Fairbanks legislator David Guttenberg said the ad includes enough imagery to play on prejudices but is vague enough to allow deniability. He called it a “dog whistle” for anti-Semitism.

“They’re bringing the voter right to where they want them to think about what they want them to think, but they’re not telling them what to think,” Guttenberg said.

It’s ironic that Sullivan is making an issue of Lower 48 contributions, Guttenberg said, since both campaigns got most of their money from Outside.

About 12% of Gross’s campaign total comes from individual Alaskans. For Sullivan, it’s 15%.

But Gross has raised a lot more money in total, about $17 million. Sullivan has raised about $10 million.

Even more money – $23 million – is coming in the form of “independent expenditures,” from groups that are funding their own ads against one of the Alaska Senate candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of that total, $14 million is aimed at defeating Sullivan.

Gross campaign manager David Keith said Sullivan himself should speak up about the ad.

“Dan has to answer how he can possibly sleep at night, thinking that this is how he closes out in an election in Alaska,” Keith said.

Shuckerow said the ad ran online for about a week and came down Friday, as scheduled. He calls it “unfortunate” that charges of anti-Semitism are being deployed in the final hours of a campaign.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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