Fact Check

Scott Walker Tells Jewish Voters 'Molotov'?

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed off with 'molotov' instead of 'mazel tov' in a letter to a Jewish voter?

Published Dec 11, 2014

Claim:   Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker cluelessly signed off with "molotov" instead of "mazel tov" in a letter to a Jewish constituent.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, December 2014]

Everyone from MSNBC to the Washington Post to Huffington are reporting this about Scott Walker signing an undated letter to a Jewish constituent by saying Molotov! instead of Mazel Tov! Is the letter legit?


Origins:   On 10 December 2014, the Capital Times published an article titled "The Political Pitfalls of Cultural Crossover: Scott Walker Edition" regarding the contents of a letter purportedly sent by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker to a Jewish constituent on the matter of including a menorah in holiday decor. The article claimed Walker awkwardly signed off by saying "molotov" when he presumably meant "mazel tov," a Hebrew expression of good wishes:

In an undated letter unearthed by the liberal group One Wisconsin Now during the August release of documents from the first of two John Doe investigations related to the governor, Walker responded to a letter from Milwaukee attorney and chairman of the Wisconsin Center District Franklyn Gimbel.

Walker told Gimbel his office would be happy to display a menorah celebrating "The Eight Days of Chanukah" at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, and asked Gimbel to have a representative from Lubavitch of Wisconsin contact Walker's secretary, Dorothy Moore, to set it up.

The letter is signed, "Thank you again and Molotov."

Although somewhat phonetically similar, the two terms have vastly different meanings: "Mazel tov" is a common phrase denoting benevolent intent, whereas "molotov" is most often paired with "cocktail" to describe an improvised explosive device (so named as an insulting reference to Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov).

The latter was undated, and Walker's best guess was it was sent in 2003 or thereabouts. Neither Walker nor the letter's recipient (Gimbel) recognized the missive when asked about the claim, and the governor surmised if the mistake had occurred, it was due to a typo rather than a lack of understanding about the difference between the two terms.
Additionally, a Milwaukee paper reported its attempt to duplicate a correction of a misspelled "mazel tov" in Microsoft Word led to replacement with the word "molotov":

Microsoft Word doesn't have an automatic correction function. But if you type mozoltov — a phonetic spelling of mazel tov — Microsoft will suggest "molotov" as an alternative spelling.

Gimbel said he doesn't remember reading Walker's entire letter. He said he probably saw that Walker had accepted his menorah suggestion and stopped there. Had he seen the use of the phrase "molotov," Gimbel said he almost certainly would have called to point out the mistake.

"That's pretty basic," Gimbel said.

Ultimately, Walker didn't deny sending the letter but was also unable to recall writing it, and the letter's recipient similarly couldn't confirm noticing the error. Even if the letter as published is entirely accurate, it's possible the error was made by a staffer and was not a misstep by Walker himself. In any event, it's likely Walker is aware of the difference between "mazel tov" and "molotov," and (if true) the error was one born of a finger slip and not ignorance.

Last updated:   11 December 2014

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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