By Associated Press - Saturday, January 24, 2015

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Gov. Jack Markell’s rabbi is condemning an anti-Semitic remark by state Rep. John Kowalko in reference to the nation’s only sitting Jewish governor.

The News Journal ( ) reports Kowalko used the term “shylocks” during an outburst Tuesday at a school board meeting in Christina while criticizing Markell and education officials for their plan to turn around low-performing schools in Wilmington. Kowalko is Democrat representing Newark.

“There’s a palpable sense of fear. I see it in the eyes of the governor. I see it in the eyes of (Education Secretary Mark) Murphy … and the rest of them shylocks that they have down there that are trying to sell you a bill of goods,” Kowalko said.

Shylock is the name of a Jewish character in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” and is a villainous moneylender who demands a “pound of flesh” from a merchant who defaults on a loan. It has long been considered an anti-Semitic term.

Rabbi Yair Robinson of Wilmington’s Congregation Beth Emeth said the term is “deeply offensive” and an “awful thing to say.” Markell is a member of Robinson’s congregation.

“Whether it was intended as such or not, it was hate speech,” Robinson said Friday. “And hate speech must always be combated in public.”

Kowalko has apologized and said he did not intend to offend anyone.

“I am not anti-Semitic,” Kowalko said Friday. “That was not the word I intended to use. I do understand the context, that it’s a derogatory term. I don’t think I have to apologize for some kind of attempt to denigrate someone. Certainly I should choose my words better. I certainly apologize for using that word. It was never my intention.”

Markell’s spokeswoman Kelly Bachman said the governor thinks any discriminatory slur weakens American unity.

In September, Vice President Joe Biden apologized after his use of the term “shylock” drew criticism from the Anti-Defamation League. Biden was referencing lenders who preyed on military families.


Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del.,

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