John Whitbeck, chairman of Virginia’s 10th Congressional District Republican Committee, announced Monday that he will run for Attorney General-Elect Mark Herring’s (D) open state senate seat — barring any changes from a potential statewide recount. Whitbeck made headlines in September when he told an anti-Semitic joke at a rally for then-Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli II (R).
After giving one of the nomination speeches for Cuccinelli at the 2013 state GOP convention, Whitbeck appeared at a “Constitution Day” campaign rally featuring right-wing shock jock Mark Levin. Speaking at the rally, Whitbeck started the event by noting that he is a Catholic and that those in his faith recently celebrated the new Pope. He told a lengthy joke about a tradition in which the “head of the Jewish faith goes to the Vatican and brings a ceremonial piece of paper” to the new Pontiff:
WHITBECK: This time around, the Pope says, “I gotta find out what’s on this piece of paper.” So he actually takes it from the head of the Jewish faith, he opens it, he looks at, he closes it, he grimaces. And his Jewish counterpart says, “What what is?” And he says, “Well, that was the bill from the Last Supper.” So, on that note, we’re waiting for Ken Cuccinelli and he’s on his way.
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Cuccinelli’s chief strategist called the comment “wholly inappropriate,” “not connected to the campaign,” and “not reflective of Ken Cuccinelli.” A day after the event, Cuccinelli himself denounced the “inappropriate” joke, saying, “It’s certainly unfortunate and something if I had heard it at the time, I would have spoken to right there. Certainly not an appropriate thing to carry into the public discussion we’re having.” Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington said Whitbeck’s “anti-Semitic joke at the opening of an event for gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli has no place in civil political discourse, and it was inappropriate and offensive.” And the Jewish Daily Forward slammed Whitbeck for combining “two of the most toxic anti-Jewish stereotypes into a single punchline: God-killers [and] Cheapskates.”
In addition to repeating the anti-Semitic stereotypes, Whitbeck demonstrated a stunning ignorance of Judaism in suggesting that there is a Pope-like “head of the Jewish faith.” There is not.
But even after widespread bipartisan criticism, Whitbeck initially refused to apologize, claiming, “I told a joke. I did not tell an anti-Semitic joke. I told a joke I heard from a priest at a church service.” Whibeck then blamed the incident on Democrats, arguing, “Any alleged outrage over this joke has been wholly manufactured by American Bridge, an organization founded by Democrat activist David Brock and funded by George Soros.” Two days later, he finally posted a brief (now deleted) statement on the party committee website apologizing to anyone offended by his “lighthearted attempt at humor.”
Whitbeck, who said his top priorities as a state senator would be “to ensure Obamacare is not expanded in Virginia, to make sure tax dollars taken from our region for transportation stay in our region, and that our children have access to a world-class education,” released a list of endorsements including Loudoun County Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R), who heads an anti-LGBT hate group called Public Advocate of the United States, and State Senator Dick Black (R), who compared Roe v. Wade to the Holocaust on the 40th anniversary of the abortion rights decision.