After meeting with Jewish leaders, Assemblyman Tyler Diep (R-Westminster) apologized this week for political mailers that appeared to employ ethnic stereotypes.
“I want to take this opportunity to publicly share my sincere apology to anyone in the Jewish community who was offended by my campaign during the 2018 election,” Diep said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “There is no place for anti-Semitism in our society, and while my campaign had no intention of doing so, we failed to recognize the sensitivity of the problem. I now have a greater understanding for the seriousness of anti-Semitic sentiments.”
Diep’s statement followed a private meeting held Friday with rabbis and other faith leaders from Orange and Los Angeles counties.
Diep’s chief of staff, Peter Kim, denied the Daily Pilot’s request to attend the session in the assemblyman’s Huntington Beach office, but those who were there said Diep offered his regrets.
“I think that Assemblyman Diep appreciated the background we provided to him and his staff,” said Rabbi Stephen Einstein of Temple B’Nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley. “Diep expressed to us his intention was not to be hurtful. He understands more why some of these things were felt deeply, and I think he has definitely learned from this.”
It was “mainly him listening, and he gave context about his own personal life as an immigrant and learning parts of the community and how this is really news to him,” said Peter Levi, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League. “It was certainly not his intention to offend in this way.”
The mailers, sent prior to the November election, depicted Diep’s opponent with an enlarged nose, clutching $100 bills. The image, shaded in green, which is regularly used as a metaphor for greed, included this statement: “Businessman Josh Lowenthal recklessly cut corners, putting customers and employees at risk just so he could make a quick buck.”
Diep’s campaign denied that it enlarged the image of Lowenthal’s nose and provided a side-by-side comparison of an original photo of the candidate, a Democrat who lives in Huntington Beach.
Diep’s campaign pointed out that Diep is Vietnamese and “highly sensitive to attempts at exploiting stereotypes to score political points.”
Michael Mermelstein of the Auschwitz Study Foundation in Huntington Beach said he told Diep about his experience with anti-Semitism while a student at Dwyer Middle School.
“What’s important for the community is how he moves forward with this,” Mermelstein said. “Diep mentioned as an immigrant in [this] country, he was unfamiliar with anti-Semitism and traditions and tropes he perpetuated in those ads and it begs the question whether other people in his staff who aren’t new to those ideas.”
Rossmoor business owner Melissa Carr said she expected more from Diep, whom she described as “ill-prepared” and “disinterested” during the meeting. Like Mermelstein, she also found it difficult to believe how Diep didn’t initially see how his mailers were offensive.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise to Mr. Diep,” she said. “He should know that.”
Lowenthal said in a statement Wednesday that his former opponent’s “acknowledgement is a long time coming. Ideally he’s learned from this and can be an example of humility and compassion going forward.”
Kim initially told the Daily Pilot that Diep would be open to an interview after the meeting, but said Tuesday that it would be “difficult to schedule a phone interview for this week at this time.”