WILKES-BARRE — A fundraising event for U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta scheduled for July 20 in Northeastern Pennsylvania is drawing political fire after it emerged that a prominent British nationalist is expected to attend.
Nigel Farage, formerly head of the right-wing UK Independence Party, has been a lightning rod for criticism in his homeland, including for remarks he made on a radio talk show last fall saying that the “Jewish lobby” has disproportionate power in American politics.
Barletta (R-Hazleton) is running against incumbent Bob Casey (D-Scranton) in this fall’s U.S. Senate race.
Barletta campaign spokesman David Jackson would not confirm published reports that the event will be in Harveys Lake, saying only that the intended venue “is somewhere outside of Wilkes-Barre.”
Casey’s campaign, meanwhile, tore into the opposition for associating with Farage.
“While it’s unsurprising that Congressman Barletta, who has associated with neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers in the past, is raising money with an anti-Semitic white nationalist, is certainly marks a new low for his campaign,” said Max Steele, Casey campaign spokesman.
“While the FBI would describe Nigel Farage as a ‘person of interest,’ Congressman Barletta clearly prefers the term ‘special guest.’ Barletta must cancel this fundraiser to send a clear message that anti-Semitism has no place in our politics,” Steele added.
Farage was identified as a person of interest in the FBI’s Russia investigation.
Jackson said Farage is a friend of one of the event’s hosts, but he did not identify who that person is.
“Congressman Barletta is fortunate to have supporters all over Pennsylvania who are willing to host events for his U.S. Senate campaign,” Jackson said. “Congressman Barletta has not met Mr. Farage, nor has Mr. Farage donated to the campaign because, as a British citizen, he cannot.”
Farage, 54, supported Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election, appearing on his behalf on more than one occasion that year, including during the GOP convention in Cleveland.
Jackson hit back against allegations of anti-Semitism.
“If the Casey campaign thinks that calling everyone they disagree with a racist is a winning strategy , then they really haven’t learned anything over the last two years,” Jackson said. “Lou Barletta will continue to be a problem solver and leader on the issues important to Pennsylvania voters, while Bob Casey continues to lose support with his wild accusations, fear mongering, and agenda of obstructionism.”
Barletta also received some support from a group of Jewish leaders who sent a letter to Pennsylvania voters condemning Casey’s campaign for “outrageous personal attacks” on Barletta.
The letter was signed by several people identified as Jewish leaders, including State Rep. Aaron Kaufer (R-Kingston), Evelyn and Seymour Holtzman, Kingston; Dr. Matthew and Susan Berger, Kingston; Connie and Gene Roth, Wilkes-Barre; and Paul Brenner, Sugarloaf Township.
The letter said, “As leaders of the Jewish community in Pennsylvania, we are writing to condemn Senator Casey’s continued outrageous and inaccurate personal attacks against Congressman Lou Barletta. Congressman Barletta is a man of high character who is committed to protecting religious freedom, combating racist ideologies, and supporting Israel and the Jewish people. Senator Casey’s sad and unfortunate attacks against Congressman Barletta are a desperate attempt to deflect attention away from Senator Casey’s own record, including his vote for the disastrous Iran Deal — the single greatest threat to Jewish people in Israel and around the world. Pennsylvanians deserve better from their United States Senator.”
The letter goes on to cite Barletta’s record in Congress supporting the Jewish community and Israel.
“While Congressman Barletta has worked to unite Pennsylvanians of all faiths, Senator Casey is using these inflammatory tactics to divide us; this is gutter politics at its worst,” the letter states. “Rather than run on his 20-plus year record in public office, Senator Casey has sadly chosen to take the low road. Pennsylvania’s voters deserve a campaign based on candidates’ records, not baseless personal attacks and mud-slinging.
“Senator Casey should be ashamed.”
The Pennsylvania Democratic Party, meanwhile, released a statement underscoring Farage’s previous statements and calling on Barletta to cancel the event.
“If Congressman Barletta believes that anti-Semitism has no place in our politics, why does he continue to associate with right-wing extremists who deny the Holocaust or rant about the ‘Jewish lobby’ in America?” said party Chairwoman Nancy Patton Mills.
“It’s outrageous and unacceptable. The Barletta campaign must cancel their fundraiser with Nigel Farage and apologize for defending his anti-Semitic comments.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.