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Ohio Senate candidate who compared refugees to alligators is the grandson of refugees aided by resettlement organizations

<i>Monroe Trombly/News Journal/Imagn Content Services/USA Today Network</i><br/>Senate candidate Josh Mandel is looking to fill the seat being vacated by Sen. Rob Portman.
Monroe Trombly/News Journal/Imagn Content Services/USA Today Network
Senate candidate Josh Mandel is looking to fill the seat being vacated by Sen. Rob Portman.

By Andrew Kaczynski and Em Steck, CNN

An Ohio Senate candidate who has pushed strong anti-refugee messages against Afghans and others is the grandson of refugees from Europe who settled in the Cleveland area with the aid of at least two resettlement organizations in the years following World War II.

Josh Mandel, a former Ohio state treasurer running for Senate for a third time, has come under criticism for harsh anti-Afghan refugee messages said in the weeks since the frantic US withdrawal from Afghanistan in which the US and nearly two dozen other countries have evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans.

Mandel has referenced “alligators” in tweets about refugees and suggested many will be terrorists. He has said “zero” refugees should be let into the US, claiming Afghan refugees will bring “covid” and “child brides.” He has questioned “how many” Taliban fighters were on planes that left for the US from Afghanistan

The Biden administration has said it plans to resettle 60,000 Afghan refugees in the United States.

“To all those journalists out there cheering on the welcoming of Afghan ‘refugees’: You can keep feeding the alligators, but eventually you will be eaten as well,” he wrote in one tweet. Those comments, as well as tweets comparing vaccine mandates to the Holocaust, have drawn backlash.

In May, Mandel attacked President Joe Biden after the President announced he was increasing the number of refugees allowed into the United States.

“Biden announced he’s quadrupling the refugee cap from 15,000 to 62,500,” Mandel wrote on Facebook. “It’s un-American to use taxpayer dollars to resettle foreigners into the country when we have almost 40,000 homeless veterans in the US on any given night.

The White House announced Monday that it would raise the refugee cap to 125,000 for fiscal year 2022. Earlier this year, the Biden administration raised the refugee cap to 62,500 people after it flip-flopped on the position and faced fierce blowback. Still, despite raising the refugee cap in fiscal year 2021, only 7,637 refugees — about one-eighth of the maximum amount of refugees allotted — were admitted to the US in the 2021 fiscal year, according to the Refugee Processing Center.

Records from the International Refugee Organization, available online through the International Center on Nazi Persecution, and ship records show that Mandel’s maternal grandparents Josef and Fernanda Friedman were Jewish refugees who came to the United States from Italy in December 1949.

The ship which brought Friedmans was a military ship, which brought at least 14,000 emigrants to the US following World War II, according to the International Center of Nazi Persecution.

Records indicated they were helped by the Jewish Family Services Association of Cleveland, an organization which long assisted with the resettlement of Jewish refugees — and later, Cuban, Soviet and Vietnamese refugees — in the Cleveland area through its Refugee Service Department.

“They were hardworking ethnic immigrants,” Mandel said of his grandparents in 2014. “It was really my grandparents who inspired me to work hard.”

CNN’s KFile was able to match the records to Mandel’s grandparents through records available online from ancestry research websites. Mandel was also the subject of a post from historian Megan Smolenyak, though the records were independently found and verified by CNN separately.

The Friedmans’ passenger log also says they were assisted by “USNA” or the United Service for New Americans, a refugee organization founded to help Jewish refugees, Smolenyak told CNN.

The Mandel campaign confirmed to CNN that Mandel is aware of his family history and said it was “nonsense” and “degrading” to compare Holocaust refugees to the refugees of today.

“It is complete nonsense and degrading to Holocaust victims to compare them to today’s unvetted masses who are trying to invade our country from radical Islamic nations. While Nazis weren’t embedded with Jews fleeing Europe, Islamic terrorists and grown men married to child brides are embedded today. These are two completely different situations and the comparison is grotesque and disrespectful to the memory of Holocaust survivors,” said campaign spokesperson Jillian Anderson.

Earlier this month, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters that the agency had stopped an undisclosed number of Afghanistan refugees who appeared on terror watchlists from entering the US. And in an interview with NPR, Mayorkas specifically addressed concerns about terrorists embedding themselves with refugees by noting the agency is committed to screening refugees.

In 2017, Mandel similarly attacked any comparison between Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust and today’s refugees.

Mandel’s grandparents settled in the Cleveland area, according to a copy of an obituary published in the Cleveland Jewish News in 2001. Naturalization records indicate Mandel’s grandfather was naturalized in 1955.

“They came over and came to Cleveland and didn’t have two pennies to run together [sic], but one of them got a job at a brass factory, Central Brass factory here in Cleveland,” Mandel said of his grandparents in 2012. “He was a union worker there, and my grandmother Fernanda, she worked at Gray Drugstore.”

Mandel, who is Jewish, has been in Ohio politics for more than 18 years, first serving on the Lyndhurst, Ohio, city council, before he was elected to the state House of Representatives and then as state treasurer. In his third run for the Senate, he’s looking to win the seat of retiring conservative Sen. Rob Portman.

Mandel, who has taken a hard right tack since running for Senate in the Trump era, previously campaigned on breaking down partisan politics, and had proudly cited winning his city council seat in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans.

“I try to do everything I can to knock down partisan lines,” Mandel said to the Washington Post in 2011. He even apologized for a much-maligned ad he ran in his 2010 race for state treasurer, which falsely suggested his opponent was Muslim.

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