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Congregant says Plame is not a member of Jewish temple

Valerie Plame (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

This updated version of this story includes comments from former Santa Fe City Councilor Steven Farber.

SANTA FE – A prominent member of Temple Beth Shalom says former CIA operative Valerie Plame, contrary to what she recently told an Israeli journalist, is not a member of the Jewish congregation in Santa Fe.

Plame, now a New Mexico congressional candidate, continues to draw criticism for retweeting an anti-Semitic article headlined “Jews are driving America’s wars” in 2017. But she said in the recent interview that she’s drawn to her own Jewish heritage and that she has joined Temple Beth Shalom.

One of her opponents in the race for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House seat in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District has repeatedly called attention to the 2017 tweet, for which Plame has apologized. The campaign of District Attorney Marco Serna of Santa Fe says Plame “shared anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”

As the Journal reported on Sunday, Plame said during the recent videotaped interview that she’d discovered that her great-grandfather was a rabbi in Ukraine, that she had “always been drawn to that aspect of my Jewish heritage” and that this interest led her to Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Fe.

She said she is a member of the temple. Israeli journalist Tal Schneider, who interviewed Plame, reported confirming with members of the local Jewish community that Plame had attended some services.

But Daniel Yohalem, a Santa Fe attorney who is a member of Temple Beth Shalom and has served on the temple board, said Wednesday that Plame has never been a member of the congregation, at least as of earlier this week.

He said he checked the temple’s membership list and also confirmed with the congregation’s staff that Plame is not a member.

“I am deeply concerned about Miss Plame’s repeated apparent lack of candor on these issues,” Yohalem said.

He said he has donated twice to the campaign of one of Plame’s Democratic opponents in the congressional race, attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez. Federal Election Commission records show one $250 contribution by Yohalem to the Leger campaign.

Alex Koren of the Plame campaign said Wednesday night, “Valerie has attended services at Temple Beth Shalom for years. It’s unfortunate that someone would try to question another person’s faith for political gain.”

Steven Farber, a former city councilor who is lawyer for Temple Beth Shalom, said Thursday that Plame has attended services there.

“I have sat next to Valerie during High Holiday services and have appreciated her sensitivity and concerns,” he said. Farber said he spoke with her another time before the services and assumed that Plame had paid the required High Holiday rates both times, in 2018 and 2019.

Temple Beth Shalom Rabbi Neil Amswych, responding via email to Journal questions, said he couldn’t say whether Plame has joined the congregation “because our membership information is not public. I can say that Temple Beth Shalom is a welcoming, inclusive community that is open to all.”

When Plame is asked during Schneider’s interview if she is a member of the temple, Plame nods her head yes.

Plame had said in a popular James Bond-style campaign video from last year that she came from Ukrainian Jewish immigrants.

In 2017, after tweeting out the “Jews are driving America’s wars” article, which said Jews should be labeled as such when serving as TV commentators, Plame briefly defended the article, then apologized and said she had only skimmed it. She told Twitter followers, “I’m not perfect and make mistakes. This was a doozy. All I can do is admit them, try to be better, and read more thoroughly next time. Ugh.”

Plame, who has lived in Santa Fe for several years, became a national figure in 2003 when she was outed as a CIA operative, effectively ending her career with the spy agency, by people inside then-President George W. Bush’s administration. The outing was retaliation for a New York Times opinion piece written by her then-husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, that challenged intelligence put forth by the Bush administration to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq.