The Bulletin Board

Legislative Ethics Committee rebukes representative over sharing of anti-Semitic cartoon

By: - October 1, 2021 5:34 pm
State House dome and the state flag

Rep. James Spillane shared an anti-Semitic cartoon on the conservative social media platform Parler. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

A House Republican issued a public apology Thursday for posting an anti-Semitic image on the conservative website Parler, following a determination by the Legislative Ethics Committee that he had violated multiple State House policies. 

“I sincerely apologize for the echoing of a meme with an image that turned out to be deeply offensive,” Rep. James Spillane said, “and I acknowledge that taking that action in my name as a state representative without having conducted thorough research to determine the source of that image was an unfortunate lapse in my normal due diligence.”

The apology came after a months-long investigation that found he had violated the Legislature’s Principals of Public Service and the Policy Against Sexual and Other Unlawful Harassment and Discrimination, according to a report published by the committee in the weekly House calendar Thursday.

In January, Spillane, a Deerfield Republican, posted a cartoon that depicted a number of men in suits playing a board game on top of a “human table” of unclothed servants, the committee found. The caption of the image – long regarded as an anti-Semitic meme – reads: “If we all stand up, their little game is over.”

The cartoon, which originated as a street painting in London in 2012, showed many of the men in suits with exaggerated features often associated with anti-Semitic portrayals of Jewish people. 

Spillane shared it on the conservative social media platform Parler, which has positioned itself as an alternative to Twitter that allows posts that mainstream social media companies might otherwise ban.

The Deerfield Republican captioned the image “Agree. Truth.” Spillane later said he wasn’t aware of the anti-Semitic context of the cartoon and was sharing it as a condemnation of elites.

A screenshot of the Parler post later made it to Twitter and other social media platforms, and caught the attention of seven Jewish lawmakers, who raised a complaint with the ethics committee.

Speaking to the ethics committee, those lawmakers said that seeing the image had caused them to feel “pain, fear, and revulsion.” 

“They provided moving testimony about how the social media posting reminded them of the prejudice and hardships their families may have suffered as a result of historic discrimination or persecution based upon their religious heritage,” the committee said of the lawmakers, who were not named. 

The lawmakers who brought the complaint asked the committee to subject Spillane “to the strongest possible condemnation of his behavior,” and most of them requested that he be removed from office. 

In its report, the committee said Spillane’s conduct was serious. The committee found that Spillane had posted the image in his capacity as a state representative, and said his explanation that he didn’t know the origins of the image was not a defense. 

“Having considered the facts of this case as revealed by its investigation, the Committee believes that there is a sufficient basis to initiate formal proceedings against Representative Spillane,” the report stated. “… It would appear to most that some or all of the men represented in the image are Jewish and a reasonable amount of due diligence would have informed Representative Spillane that the image was controversial and could be found offensive by others.”

But noting the cooperation of Spillane and his apparent contrition, the committee held back from a formal proceeding, instead issuing a written admonishment and publishing a public letter of apology.

In his apology letter, Spillane expressed regret, saying that he held Jewish people in the “highest regard.”

“I am embarrassed that my failure to ascertain the hateful source of that image that resulted in offending and hurting so many others, especially those of the Jewish Faith,” Spillane wrote.

The committee, though, argued the conclusion should be a warning sign.

“Let this Formal Admonishment serve as a notice to all Legislators,” committee chairman Rep. Ned Gordon concluded in the committee’s report. “When you use your title or include your legislative position at the top or bottom of your social media postings, your postings should reflect the best principles of public service.”

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.

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