L. Moreland Gop Divided By Allegations Of Anti-semitism

Posted: June 02, 1997

LOWER MORELAND — Members of the local Republican committee have censured Ward 6 Commissioner Bernard Kanefsky for what they call politically motivated accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against the committee in a pre-primary election mailing they say had the result of ousting a school board member unfriendly to Kanefsky's business interests.

``We hereby withdraw our support for Mr. Kanefsky's candidacy for Ward 6 Commissioner,'' states a letter signed by nine of the township's 14 Republican committee members and sent to Commissioners President Kurt Mayer last week. ``We will not be party to Mr. Kanefsky's use of accusations of anti-Semitism as a way to win a political campaign.''

Kanefsky - who is unopposed in November's election - said the mailing sent to 280 of his Jewish acquaintances in the township was motivated by sincere outrage at anti-Semitic comments he attributed to committeeman Robert Bartlett during the 1995 election and, more recently, before the party's 1997 endorsement meeting.

``I was told to my face by a committeeman that there are too many Jews on the school board,'' Kanefsky, who is a member of the Jewish organization B'nai B'rith, said Thursday. ``And I won't be one of those people who just sit by when people make stupid comments. I speak out.''

In the his May 9 mailing, Kanefsky wrote: ``Now, afraid of being called anti-Semitic again . . . his remarks now are `that there are too many people north of Byberry Road on the board.' . . . Do not allow anti-Semitism back into our township.''

Republican school board member Sheldon Margolis, a member of B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League, said Thursday that he, too, had heard the comment made by now-Republican committee chair Bartlett at the Lower Moreland High School polls in November 1995.

When contacted, Bartlett declined to discuss the matter.

In its letter to Mayer, the Republican committee says the candidacy of one of its endorsed school board candidates, Richard Altopiedi, suffered because of Kanefsky's May 9 mailing.

``I think the business of anti-Semitism is a smoke screen,'' said Altopiedi, a committee member, contending that Kanefsky wanted him off the school board because he had opposed selling a narrow swath of land on Red Lion Road to a developer represented by Kanefsky.

Of the four board candidates endorsed by the committee in this heavily Republican township, only two advanced to the general election: Gene Kestenbaum and Marilyn Gilpin. Endorsed candidates Altopiedi and Harold Matthews both lost. The two other candidates who advanced on the GOP ticket were unendorsed: Zeldan Weisbein, an incumbent, and Marla Friedenberg, a Democratic incumbent who cross-filed. Of the four incumbents running, only Altopiedi did not win.

Gilpin, one of the committee members who signed the letter to Mayer, said Kanefsky's accusations unfairly implied that the committee as a whole was anti-Semitic.

``It really upset me to think someone would do that to win an election,'' Gilpin said. ``My daughter-in-law is Jewish. I am not a bigoted person.''

Gilpin said she was so upset after learning of Kanefsky's letter that she sought out her pastor's advice. ``I had to do something about it,'' she said. ``Enough moral people need to stand up and say enough is enough. I felt I seriously could not endorse that stunt.''

Kanefsky said the fact that the Republican committee chose not to endorse Weisbein in the primary reflected anti-Semitism.

``Before the endorsement procedures started, I was told that of the two Jewish incumbents, Zeldan Weisbein and Gene Kestenbaum, only one would be endorsed. That's right, before the meeting it was decided,'' Kanefsky's letter of May 9 states.

In an interview Friday, Weisbein, a principal at a Philadelphia school, said the endorsement choices reflected more the committee's displeasure with his pro-education stance than his religion.

The letter to Mayer was signed by committee members June Hottinger, Louis Muller, Pamela Levy, Don Dimmig, Donald Rowley, Ruth Weindorffer and Mary Emma Tompkins, as well as Gilpin and Altopiedi. Not signing the letter were chairman Bartlett, Sharon Getz, Janette Davis Margolis, John Robinson and Stephen Silverman.

Silverman said he decided not to sign because he felt the contents of Kanefsky's letter were true and he wanted to write a letter of his own assuring the public that the words of one man did not reflect the views of the entire committee.

The committee was trying to make a statement through its letter to Mayer, rather than trying to pull Kanefsky from the November ballot, Silverman said.

Committee members interviewed said anti-Semitism played no part in their endorsement decisions. The criteria used to judge candidates, they said, included the ward in which they lived, their age, and whether their children went to private or public schools.

Said Gilpin: ``I think he used [the charge of anti-Semitism] to get his candidate elected. But accusing the Republican committee of anti-Semitism is just bigotry in another form.''

Kanefsky said the fact that he was a real estate agent for Minitti M2 Enterprises, the company seeking to buy the Red Lion Road property, had nothing to do with his charge of anti-Semitism.

``I wasn't going after Altopiedi,'' Kanefsky said. ``He represents one vote on the board.''

Weisbein said he, too, had opposed the land's sale.

``The Republican committee is crying foul because most of their endorsed candidates lost the election,'' Kanefsky added. ``They lost it because of their own stupidity, and now they want to blame me.''

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