Pennsylvania AG candidate Jared Solomon bets fighting antisemitism is good policy — and good politics

Solomon is leaning into his Jewish identity in a pivotal swing state filled with high-profile pro-Israel leaders

When Pennsylvania state Rep. Jared Solomon announced a campaign for attorney general in September, he expected to focus on abortion, gun violence, fighting Donald Trump’s allegations of election fraud — standard fare for Democrats these days. 

That’s all still part of his platform, alongside other legal issues like consumer protection and going after opioid manufacturers. But lately, one of the issues he talks about most is fighting antisemitism, and promising Pennsylvanians that he will be the toughest on hate crimes of the five Democrats vying to be the state’s top law enforcement official in next month’s primary.

“I was always planning to talk about my values and my Jewish identity, because that’s important to me,” said Solomon, who grew up in Philadelphia in an apartment above his great-grandparents’ kosher butcher shop. His grandfather, who fought in World War II, used to warn Solomon that “we always have to guard against the rise of antisemitism.” But Solomon, 45, always thought his grandfather’s comments were overblown.

“Post-Oct. 7, they continue to be right, in the constant drumbeat of antisemitism across the country,” Solomon told Jewish Insider in an interview last week. “It became much more important to me to be outspoken, and to actually not just be outspoken against, but to come up with concrete ways to take down the temperature of the climate and bring people together.”

Solomon’s decision to lean into his Jewishness and his support for Israel comes at a time that the Jewish state has begun to lose some supporters in the Democratic Party, particularly in states like Michigan, where party leaders and Biden campaign officials worry about losing votes from the Muslim community. But in Pennsylvania, the biggest swing state in this year’s presidential election, support for Israel is de rigueur among Democratic leaders, especially Gov. Josh Shapiro and Sen. John Fetterman

Among the five Democrats running for attorney general in Pennsylvania, Solomon is leading in fundraising, although he has a fraction of the war chest that Shapiro had amassed when he ran for attorney general unopposed in 2016. Solomon’s emphasis on fighting hate crimes comes from personal conviction, but polling conducted by his team and shared with JI indicates it’s also a winning political position for him: 79% of likely Democratic voters reached in February said that Solomon being tough on hate crimes would make them more likely to vote for him.

Solomon recently stopped by a rally in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood to call for the release of the hostages held by Hamas, and he joined a community solidarity event in Lower Merion, on the Philadelphia Main Line, after a kosher restaurant was vandalized with graffiti that said, “Free Gaza.”

“Antisemitism, Islamophobia and hatred of all forms have no place in PA,” Solomon wrote in a post on the social media platform X from Nana’s Kitchen, the restaurant that was vandalized. “As your next AG, I’ll be the toughest in the country on prosecuting hate crimes.” His response indicates his approach to hate crimes — an emphasis on fighting all kinds of hate together, a move that has rankled some Jewish advocates since October. 

Pittsburgh-area voters will receive a mailer in the next few days that leans into the issue, according to a copy shared with JI: “With antisemitism, Islamophobia and violence against the LGBTQ+ community on the rise, Democrat Jared Solomon will be the TOUGHEST ATTORNEY GENERAL against hate crimes.” (The message also notes that Election Day falls on Passover, and tells voters how to receive a mail-in ballot.)

In a conversation with JI, Solomon outlined a vision for Pennsylvania that harkened back to the multiracial coalitions of the Civil Rights Movement, when Jews marched alongside Blacks to desegregate Southern cities. As a teenager, Solomon participated in a now-defunct program called Operation Understanding, which brought together six Black students and six Jewish students to learn from each other and travel together to Senegal and Israel.

“It’s one of the reasons I started the Black-Jewish caucus [in the Statehouse],” Solomon said. “We’ve been navigating a really thorny thicket of issues in light of what’s happening in Gaza right now, and I’ve tried to work through a lot of those together.”

Pennsylvania state House of Representatives’ impeachment manager Rep. Jared Solomon, listens to remark before he and other managers deliver articles of impeachment against Philadelphia’s Democratic district attorney, Larry Krasner, to the Senate chamber at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022.

After the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, Solomon said he has sought to “bring back a sense of allyship in the Jewish community, one that I think we’ve lost a bit and unfortunately, I see some of that waning now. We don’t have as many supporters as we did at the beginning of the conflict.” 

The answer, he said, is for public officials to model “good behavior,” of working together to combat hate. 

“You have to get into the habit of working together, and I think that in the Black and Jewish communities, the Islamic and Jewish communities, we have not gotten in that habit in recent years,” said Solomon. “How can we begin to flex those muscles once again, and feel what it’s like, again, to have difficult conversations, and then seek a world of substantive policy wins that I think really have to begin with those personal relationships.”

How, exactly, he’ll do that — when tensions are high and the Israel-Hamas war is disrupting even long-standing relationships — remains unclear. But it’s a vision in which Solomon has invested heavily.

On his campaign website, Solomon declares that one of his first actions as attorney general will be to create a task force to monitor and combat antisemitism, similar to the one created by the attorney general of Virginia, a Republican. But he wants the scope to be much larger: “I want to broaden it. I want to do an Islamophobia, antisemitism, bigotry [and] racism task force,” said Solomon. 

Whenever “animus towards any group” occurs, Solomon said, “we’re there, surrounding the issue.” He sees the task force as a vehicle to bring together educators, faith leaders, local officials and state and local law enforcement, and to consider best practices for addressing hate crimes — with legislation already on the books, and new legislation. 

The task force could also be used to investigate foreign funding at colleges and universities, or at nonprofits in the state. Solomon also hopes to promote “cultural sensitivity training” and education for law enforcement, but declined to share how he would incorporate Israel into conversations about antisemitism, and how to define it. 

Ultimately, Solomon said, his vision for fighting hate in Pennsylvania is to take a universal approach. 

“It also begins with what a reset of a culture would look like,” said Solomon. “When you begin to talk and walk together, instead of siloed, you begin to change the public’s perception around these issues.”

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