Penn community members and student organizations express disapproval over the widespread controversial statements that Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) told about himself and his background to get elected to the United States Congress.
Santos, who represents a portion of Long Island, helped Republicans secure a narrow majority in the House of Representatives. After his successful election, his biography has been targeted by national media outlets and criticized as being built on falsehoods.
College first year and Penn College Republicans Political Director Peter Kapp told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the College Republicans do not support Santos’ “deceit of his constituency and the American public,” adding that Santos’ decisions to lie have lost him the respect from the student organization and several prominent conservatives.
“College Republicans believe that Santos has a duty to resign for his constituency and for the Republican Party," Kapp wrote to the DP in a statement. "Because he was elected under false pretense, his district will not necessarily be represented by the person they elected. For him to stay in office would be unfair to those who voted for him."
Santos previously told voters that he attended the Horace Mann School in the Bronx, graduated summa cum laude from Baruch College, and received an MBA from New York University, but each of the three institutions hold no record of his attendance, according to reporting by New York Magazine.
Santos also reportedly lied about working for Goldman Sachs, being the grandson of Holocaust survivors, losing employees during the Pulse nightclub shooting of 2016, and being Jewish. The Congressman is also being subject to multiple finance and ethics investigations.
Kapp also wrote that he believes Santos’ actions do not speak for the greater Republican Party and that the congressman’s affiliation with the GOP does not certify that he acted on behalf of the Party’s ideals.
“The reputation of the Party is worth far more than one additional red seat,” Kapp wrote, adding that if Santos remains in the House, it would only offer credibility to the question of whether the Republican Party condones such dishonesty.
Rabbi Gabe Greenberg, Executive Director of Penn Hillel, told the DP that he condemns lying in the political sphere, noting that it is often common, but that in the case of Santos, it is "quite beyond the pale, both in quality and quantity."
In terms of Santos' claims of Jewish ancestry, Greenberg said it can be "a bit confusing."
"Santos has claimed Jewish heritage and identity, which on its face, seems to be promoting Judaism and viewing it positively," Greenberg said. "What he's doing is actually a form of antisemitism in that he is laying claim to to a heritage and culture which is not his, and in so doing, taking part in devaluing Judaism and Jewish history by making the implicit claim that it's available to anyone for the taking, whenever they might want to."
Greenberg said that Santos' antisemitism could be contextualized as coming during a "general societal rise in antisemitism being articulated by public figures."
Jonathan Zimmerman, a history of education professor at the Penn Graduate School of Education, wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer that Santos’ lies about his Jewish ancestry are “more like a joke.”
“For most of history, any association with Judaism was more likely to hold you back than to push you forward,” Zimmerman wrote, adding that the congressman’s lies about his religious background are “not nearly as serious as his other lies.”
College junior Will Stein, from Port Washington, N.Y. and a constituent of Santos, told the DP that regardless of what Santos campaigned on, the congressman’s reputation is tainted and he is blighting the reputation of the entire congressional district.
“Regardless of political affiliation, I think he’s a shameful representation of our district. We don’t want to be in the news for this reason,” Stein said.
Wharton sophomore Jacob Rosenberg, one of Santos' constituents from Roslyn, N.Y., said that Santos’ election “exposes a need” for a method whereby voters can pull their elected officials from the public office in circumstances like these.
In terms of where to place the blame, Rosenberg said that everyone that enabled this to happen is culpable, including the Republicans for fielding a candidate with no verified qualifications, the Democrats for lacking in their opposition research, and the system itself for having low barriers to entrance for congressional candidates.
Despite the calls for his resignation, The New York Times reported that House Republican leadership has given Santos seats on on the Small Business and the Science, Space, and Technology Committees.
As a Jewish student, Stein said Santos’ claims of Jewish ancestry are “offensive.”
“For Santos to lie that he’s the grandson of Holocaust survivors and claim that he came from Jewish roots, it’s just not right,” Stein said, adding that he also believes the congressman should resign.
Rosenberg told the DP that he is “incredibly disappointed in the system that produced this reality.”