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Connecticut GOP state candidate apologizes after accusations of anti-Semitic ad

A Republican state candidate has apologized for sending out a flier attacking his opponent with anti-Semitic undertones that was rebuked by his own party.

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Veronica Stracqualursi
(CNN) — A Republican state candidate has apologized for sending out a flier attacking his opponent with anti-Semitic undertones that was rebuked by his own party.

A flier sent to voters Monday from Republican candidate Ed Charamut's campaign attacked his opponent, Democratic state Rep. Matthew Lesser, arguing he would be bad for senior citizens. But the ad featured a cartoon-like image of Lesser, who is Jewish, with a wide-eyed grin, clutching a wad of $100 bills.

The mailer came after 11 people were killed in a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, which police have deemed a hate crime. It was the deadliest anti-Semitic incident in US history and has renewed scrutiny of anti-Semitism in the US.

On Wednesday, Charamut's campaign posted a statement on Facebook apologizing to Lesser, the Jewish Community and "anyone who found the mailer to be anything other then a depiction of policy differences between the two candidates."

The campaign said its intention for the mailer was never to be "anything more than a reflection of Mr. Lesser's policy record" and "in no way ever intended for the mailer to be about Mr. Lesser's religious background."

"However, it is clear now that the imagery could be interpreted as anti-Semitic, and for that we deeply apologize as hate speech of any kind does not belong in our society and especially not in our politics," the campaign said.

CNN had reached out to the Charamut campaign.

Following initial reports about the ad, the Anti-Defamation League's Connecticut branch told The Hartford Courant that the "juxtaposition of a Jewish candidate for office and money in this manner suggests an age-old anti-Semitic trope."

At first, Charamut defended the flier in an email to the Courant Tuesday, telling the newspaper that "those wishing to portray a graphic illustration as something hateful are completely wrong."

"I reject hate speech in all its forms," Charamut wrote to the paper. "The mailer draws a stark contrast between myself and Matt Lesser."

After calling the criticism "false outrage" in an interview with the Courant, the state party chair J.R. Romano amended his previous comments, saying in a written statement provided to the newspaper that the image should be "recognized as offensive."

"I had the opportunity to discuss some of the context of the recent mailer sent by candidate Ed Charamut involving State Representative Matt Lesser," he said in his statement to the Courant. "Several things have come into perspective from conversations with Jewish friends, including Jewish Republicans. In a race with a Jewish candidate, this image should be recognized as offensive, raising classic anti-Semitic tropes. It cannot be justified. I personally would not have approved this mailer, and I am grateful that the party did not approve it."

Romano said in his statement to the Courant that he has requested to sit down with the ADL to "broaden my understanding of and sensitivity to anti-Semitism."

The state Republican party and the ADL did not immediately return CNN's request for comment.

Lesser told The Washington Post that the mailer "uses imagery that's been used to vilify the Jewish people for hundreds of years, and grossly caricatured my face and has me clutching a pile of money."

"That's as explicitly anti-Semitic as anything can be," he told the newspaper.

CNN has also reached to Lesser's campaign.

The ADL found last year that anti-Semitic incidents rose almost 60%, the largest single-year increase on record.

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