While reporting for my article on the race in New York’s 3rd congressional district, I had occasion to to interview the incumbent representative, George Santos. Having left a number of messages for him, I was surprised when, on September 18, in the midst of the most recent government funding showdown in the House, Santos actually called me back. Toward the end of our conversation, Santos expressed his displeasure with interviewers who later cherrypick his words and misrepresent his ideas. We invite readers to draw their own conclusions.
Here we offer the interview in full, with three caveats:
1) A PolitiFact fact check of Santos’ false statements
2) A reminder of the thorough debunking of his claims that his maternal grandparents were Jewish refugees by The Forward, and
3) The 5-minute video Santos urged me to watch regarding what he told the Republican Jewish Committee after his win last year (in which, in fact, he does not make the joke he told me he’d made). At timestamp 2:45, Rep. Santos identifies himself as the third Jewish Republican in congress.
Hey, Mr. Representative. I know you’re very busy, so I was hoping we could run through the questions I sent last month.
It’s not that it fell through the cracks. Stuff just got really busy and campaign stuff has really taken a back seat.
Like, dude, I’m just trying to not let the government shut down. And federal employees, I have about 7,000 in my district. People need to pay their bills. They’ve got to put food on the table, and that’s a big responsibility on my back so I’m very stressed about it, just making sure I can navigate these waters with my fellow colleagues in the House to, you know, deliver sensible policy so that we don’t shut down the government. I’m just trying to do my part. Anyway, what’s your angle, I know it’s about Jewish politics.
So essentially there’s some six Jews running in the primaries.
They’re all Democrats right?
Actually two of them are Republicans as of right now.
Who are the Republicans?
So the Republicans are a physician named Harvey Manes…
I know Harvey very well socially, cocktails, fundraisers and whatnot. I’ve met with him a number of times.
He did mention that. There’s also a moving company exec named Daniel Norber.
He is in fact. He’s actually Israeli.
That’s so funny. OK cool. Good for him. I don’t know him. I know Anna Kaplan and Josh Lafazan and then there’s this other kid—
There you go. What’s his first name?
Zak. There you go. Young kid, very energetic. Very, very interesting. Don’t know him at all.
Sure. And there’s Steve Behar who’s a Democratic activist who’s also running.
Oh, I’ve never heard of him. Must be new in the race.
Gotcha. So my first question is what is your relationship like with your Jewish constituents and why should Jews in the district vote for you?
My relationship with my Jewish constituents, and remember there’s the Jewish constituents who voted for me and the ones who never voted for me and now oppose me the loudest. But for those who voted for me, and I’ve worked with for the last three, four years of my political endeavors, my relationship remains good. Specifically because I have come through and stuck to being very pro-Israel and very pro-fighting-for-the-Jewish-people and the rights of Israelis to defend themselves from terrorists. So I’m unapologetically pro-Israel and I’ve made it very clear that I’m very pro-Zionist and they see I’ve made it very clear through actions, not just words, that I’m pro-Israel, pro-Jewish freedom. [I’ve taken every] action that has been available to me in this body since I got elected and I still stand very proud of that. And I think we should do more and I don’t think we do enough.
Like, dude, I’m just trying to not let the government shut down.
Sure. So, let me ask you this: Republicans had some real success in Long Island in 2022. What do you attribute that to?
I want to say the individualistic campaigns that were run were very different. You have campaigns where half of the ticket, which was Congressman Lee Zeldin at the time, running for governor, funny enough Jewish himself. He was a big draw. So if you look at some of the races, you’ll see that he carried some of those races. In my case I outperformed all odds in my district. I took the district from a Biden plus eight and really swung it to a sixteen-and-a-half swing and won it by eight percent.
So what really resonated in Long Island overall was the law-and-order and commonsense policies. Every last one of us ran on common sense. To be very fair though, out of the four of us, I do tend to stream a little bit further to the right on certain issues, particularly social issues, than my colleagues who also ran. The good thing about it is I was always very straightforward with my policy. I never misled anyone to think my policy was one thing, then voted a different way. I ran a people-oriented campaign. I’m very personable. I’m very testable. And actually the reason my call took so long to get to you was I got a text from a constituent who needed help with something, so I was on the phone with him getting someone on my district staff to go help him with this issue like right now. So I’m a retail politician, right? And I do customer service; that’s my forte.
Why are you running for reelection?
I’m running for reelection because I think two things. I can’t allow the media to determine whether I run or not and I can’t allow activists to determine whether I run or not. I need to allow the body of work that I’ve done inside the United States Congress—I’m proud of the work I put forward. I’m proud of the results I’m getting. I’m proud of the constituent services we provide. And I want to be judged by the same people that hired me. If they’re unsatisfied and they don’t like me any more and want to choose someone else, I think it’s imperative that they get to do that, not some agitators with bullhorns, lawn signs, and some posters. They don’t get to determine who runs for office or not. So I’d rather go face the music and if I leave, I’d rather it be by defeat of elections than by cowardice of kowtowing out to agitators.
How do you like your odds?
You know, it’s too early to tell. But I can tell you one thing: I’ve come a long way from that early Newsday poll from January (wherein 78 percent of 3rd district residents said Santos should resign). I just saw a poll that’s very, very different; it’s very promising. I think people are starting to see that the media did a number on me. And I’m gonna fight for a comeback. And it sounds very cliche, Jacob, but America loves a comeback.
Yes they do. All of the candidates I talked to mention your “Jew-ish” comment. What did you mean by that and do you stand by it?
I stand by it. Did you see my speech at the RJC last year?
I did not.
So you should find that download and you should see it. I clearly took the stage. I, you know, complimented everybody—Shabbat Shalom, everybody, thanks for having me here. It was amazing. And I’m paraphrasing because I don’t remember verbatim. I’m paraphrasing, and I joked, “It’s such an honor to address this room. It’s such an honor to be here with everybody and it’s incredible that you all conceded the microphone to a Catholic. But, I am ‘Jew-ish’ after all through my maternal grandparents.” That’s all I said.
So your maternal grandparents are Jewish? And they were survivors?
They were refugees from Europe to Brazil. So that’s all I said, right? That’s literally all I said. And by the way over a thousand people in that room thought that was the funniest thing they heard because they broke out in laughter. Just look at the video and you’ll hear it. I am deeply troubled by the way people tried to spin this. I am deeply troubled by the way the media has come after me.
Dude, I had to actually go get a genealogy test and a DNA test, and my grandparents, like many, many Jews who fled Europe during WWII, had to get a lot of falsified documents to leave. And then when they got to whatever destination there was more falsification of documents, in the name of survival. And knowing their actions—yes I condone their actions—it was either that or die. So you know what, I commend their courage and bravery for the hundreds of thousands that were able to escape. Unfortunately, there were less fortunate people than there were fortunate people in this incident. I wish all six million could have made it out in the same fashion and falsified the shit out of their documents, at least they’d all be alive. They would have survived and been able to tell their stories.
In my staff, my communications director’s grandmother, she’s a survivor of camp Auschwitz. And you can see her story. Steven Spielberg did a documentary with her back in 1993 as one of the Auschwitz survivors during the Mengele twins experiments. She wasn’t a twin but she witnessed a lot of it as a 14-year-old. I know her very, very well and we talk and she’s the most amazing human being. The connection is so strong. And, you know, she tells the stories better than anyone I know and it’s what she said, there were a lot of people who were fortunate and were able to squeeze out but not everybody. So, look, I stand by it. I have Jewish heritage. I never said I was a Jewish person or a practicing Jew.* I have a lot of connection and affiliation to the Jewish faith but I’m not a practicing Jew. But I have a racial claim to it and I think it’s very unfortunate that people choose to weaponize that.
You did a genealogy test?
I took a DNA test. And then I hired a genealogist to do tracing on my maternal family extensively. And it was very likely, because they do come from Ukraine originally—my mother’s father comes from Ukraine, that side of the family—and then my mother’s mother’s side of the family comes from the Mediterranean. So it wasn’t easy, but we got it. And I’m actually getting ready to release it with The Forward. We got a project; I don’t know when, but I already had Jacob Kornbluh, their senior political reporter, in my office. You know, we’ve already spoken and we’re gonna get on to something.
Very interesting. I just have one last question for you. What do you make of the large number of Jewish candidates running against you?
I think it’s amazing. I think it’s representation. This is the third largest congressional district with Jewish population per capita. And I think it just makes it indicative of the representation that the district wants. And I think we should look at this as a net positive. And I just hope whoever wins, if it’s not me, whether it is a fellow Jewish candidate who’s running wins, Republican or Democrat, I just hope they bring a pro-Israel stance because former member Tom Suozzi was very pro-Israel; former member Steve Israel was very pro-Israel; Peter King, when he represented this district, very pro-Israel. The district has had pro-Israel representation through and through. My fear is that some of these more liberal, extreme progressive candidates that are running against me are not pro-Israel. And that concerns me.
Even the most left-wing candidate I interviewed is pretty ardently pro-Israel.
I hope that turns out to be true. Because they can, words are cheap and I want to see action. Because based on some voting records, one of them has a voting record in the state, which is Anna Kaplan. And her voting record is very intrusive with religious freedoms, especially with bodily autonomy. I don’t see that, in a sense, to be pro-religious freedom in any way, shape, or form. Forcing the Hasidic community to take vaccinations that they don’t believe in is an infringement upon their religious beliefs. You can’t be pro-Jewish freedoms and pro-Israel if you’re enforcing all sorts of draconian and arbitrary, lack thereof freedom of healthcare and bodily autonomy. So I’m troubled by her.
I wish all six million [victims of the Holocaust] could have made it out in the same fashion and falsified the shit out of their documents.
What is your relationship with the Hasidic community in the district?
There’s not much of a Hasidic community in the district. It’s mainly a Mashhadi community in the Great Neck peninsula. Scattered out throughout North Hempstead there’s a lot of Persians, right? And then there’s just a very Reform community and a Conservative community, but it’s mainly Ashkenaz’ and not really Hasidic. I’ve got to tell you, there’s very few, from my understanding at least from campaigning within the community. It’s a very small Hasidic community in this district. It’s bigger in Brooklyn, for sure. And they’re also even bigger in the five towns, more so than they are in New York. The five towns are in NY-4. I don’t have a single one of the five towns.
The Jewish parts of my district are mainly Bayside in Queens, then there’s some spillage into Little Neck and Douglas, but not much. Then you have massive Jewish communities in all of the Great Neck peninsula. And every part of the Great Neck peninsula is predominantly Jewish. There’s parts of Great Neck that, on Saturday, you can’t get anything done. There’s not a storefront open; it’s not worth doing business. And then you go to Sand’s Point, where you also have a very large Jewish community in all of that Port Washington peninsula as well. Then you go to Plainview, where it’s very predominantly Jewish, a voting bloc there. And then you have them all throughout Old Westbury as well. So again, and this is in large, concentrated numbers, hence the third largest Jewish district in the country. It’s because it has a concentration of people in general.
I’m gonna fight for a comeback. And it sounds very cliche, but America loves a comeback.
Do you have anything else you want to say to your constituents, Jews in the district, etc?
I stand with them, for them and I’ll continue to fight for their freedom to be able to voice their opposition to me because I believe in freedom, unequivocal freedom, so that’s kind of the way I see it. And to my critics, I will always fight for their freedom.
Well I wish you the best of luck in avoiding the shutdown and in your reelection campaign.
Thank you. Jacob, question for you, if you don’t mind. Where are you from?
I am from Washington, DC actually.
Oh and what drove you to do this story? I’m just very curious.
Truth be told, I was mostly perusing congressional races and saw there were some six Jews running in this district. So I figured, that’s an angle.
Heh. Are you Jewish yourself?
I was gonna ask; I didn’t know if it was Jacob or Yacob. But you said Jacob.
It is Jacob, yeah.
Cool. You’re welcome to stop by my office and set that up if you wanna do a further interview. I’m always welcome to receive reporters. I’m not closed off to the media. I just don’t like it when people come and I give them a full-blown interview and then you go and cherrypick and write these random tidbits that don’t represent any of what was said to you. So I hope to see your reporting, and you can send a link over when it’s done. I’d love to see it.
Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.
Thank you. Have a good one.
You bet. No problem. Bye bye.