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Manuel Esteban Sr. apologizes to Jewish groups for remarks they called antisemitic

Republican Manuel Esteban Sr., left, and Democrat Susan

Republican Manuel Esteban Sr., left, and Democrat Susan Berland, right, are competing for the Suffolk County Legislature seat in District 16. Credit: James Escher

Manuel Esteban Sr., the Republican challenger to incumbent Democrat Susan Berland for Suffolk County Legislature, has apologized after a coalition of Jewish groups said he had invoked "historical anti-Semitic tropes and stereotypes" in remarks about Berland.

In comments at a meet the candidates event at the South Huntington Public Library last Thursday, Esteban mentioned a Bible passage about Jesus throwing money-changers out of the temple, and referred to Berland, the county legislature's only Jewish member, as "greedy."

In a joint statement Tuesday, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Long Island and the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, StandWithUs and the Simon Wiesenthal Center demanded an apology from Esteban.

The statement said Esteban, a staff attorney for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, had invoked, "historical anti-Semitic tropes and stereotypes that have no place in our public discourse, especially coming from our community leaders."

Berland (D-Dix Hills), the Suffolk legislature’s majority leader, told Newsday she took Esteban's comments to mean, "that I'm a greedy, dirty Jew that shouldn't be in office."

Berland continued: "This is an attack against the Jewish people."

In a statement issued Tuesday night to the groups and Newsday, Esteban, 45, of East Northport, said, "Please accept, and extend, my apologies to all concerned that my statements at the candidate forum October 21st caused offense."

Esteban continued: "Over the past few days I have been able to learn and reflect on how such words could and can be interpreted very differently than how I intended them, and the long history behind them that I was not aware of."

According to videos shot of the candidates' night by an aide to legislative Presiding Officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) and an event organizer, Esteban made his comments during closing remarks.

"I’m a Christian, and there’s a parable in the Bible, right, where Jesus goes into the temple and he knocks it down and throws out all the money-changers. And when Jesus did that he was pissed. And I’m pissed because that's what's happening with these money-changers that have gotten in here. My opponent is an emperor with no clothes."

Esteban then said of Berland: "She’s been here long enough, and I think she should get out, leave, let new people come in, and stop being so greedy and just desperately try to cling onto her job. These career politicians keep getting money and will never give that up unless we take that away from them. Throw the bums out."

Esteban said in an interview his metaphor was intended to highlight his concern about the influence of political donations in Suffolk County politics, and that he was not referring to Berland's religion.

Rabbi Howard Buechler of the Dix Hills Jewish Center said far-right groups have relied on such stereotypes, including false assertions Jews control world finances, to perpetuate hate.

Buechler said the Bible passage Esteban mentioned refers to people exchanging money for visitors who had traveled from around the world to visit the Second Temple.

"In the context that the candidate used it, it was a horrific dark theme of antisemitism," Buechler said.

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