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Anti-Semitism or sarcasm? Labor Department official fired over misunderstood Facebook comments

Anti-Semitism or sarcasm? Labor Department official fired over misunderstood Facebook comments
Less than three weeks into his new job, a Texas conservative has been forced out after Bloomberg dug through his Facebook history and claimed to have detected the whiff of anti-Semitism from three years ago.

Leif Olson clocked in for his first day on the job at the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division on August 12, after being cleared for the position by the White House. Less than three weeks later, Olson handed in his resignation.

The reason? A journalist at Bloomberg Law dug through his Facebook history and unearthed some supposedly anti-Semitic comments he made in 2016. The journalist called his employer and, according to the news site, Olson resigned less than four hours later.

What did Olson actually say? Underneath a sarcastic post describing then-House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “emasculating” primary victory over right-wing challenger Paul Nehlen, one commenter called Ryan a “neo-con.”

Olson responded that “neo-cons are all Upper East Side Zionists who don’t golf on Saturday if you know what I mean.”

“That’s what I meant,” the commenter replied. “He’s a Jew. Everyone knows that.”

“It must be true because I’ve never seen the Lamestream Media report it, and you know they protect their own.” 

Cropped out of the Bloomberg screenshot was another user complimenting Olson for speaking “sarcasm like a first language,” which would have made clear the nature and tone of his comments.

Although Bloomberg reporter Benjamin Penn described the story as a “SCOOP,” Olson said he was clearly mocking the commenter’s own anti-Semitism. Ryan is not Jewish but Catholic, and has talked openly about his faith before.

“It was sarcastic criticism of the alt-right’s conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic positions,” Olson said, in an interview following his resignation. 

As the dust settled, Conservative commenters called out Penn for what they saw as a hatchet-job on Olson. Indeed, Penn identified Olson’s real “crime” in a subsequent tweet, pointing out that he had been hired to oversee the drafting of wage-hour regulations favorable to the business community. 

“They’re now down one adviser,” he quipped.

Screenshots of Olson’s exchange are still available on his Facebook page, presented in an album entitled “Welcome, Bloomberg readers.” Further photos in this album show that the mocking tone of Olson’s original post was in fact aimed at right-wing media outlets like Breitbart, which had predicted a landslide primary loss for the establishment Republican.

Throwing its weight behind Penn’s accusation was the Anti-Defamation League, which declared that the post was “clearly anti-Semitic.” 

The ADL later walked this back, however, saying in a statement that “we appreciate Mr. Olson’s clarification that he intended to be sarcastic with his posts, and accept his explanation of the content in question.”

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The mere accusation of anti-Semitism, however unfounded, was evidently too hot for the Department of Labor to handle, and the former official is likely now on the way back to Texas. 

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