SEEKONK, Mass. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Ed Markey is leading a chorus of Massachusetts Democrats in criticizing Bristol County’s incumbent Republican sheriff, Thomas Hodgson, over a new ad they say is antisemitic because of its reference to liberal donor George Soros.

In a video posted to social media Monday evening, Hodgson tarred his Democratic challenger Paul Heroux because he is backed by two outside groups, Everytown for Gun Safety and the Working Families Party, which have reported spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat Hodgson.

“Every day cities such as New York and Chicago have been taken over by violent criminals, because politicians supported by George Soros and his followers don’t believe that criminals should be in jail,” Hodgson says in the video.

“These groups support my opponent,” Hodgson continues. “They have their sights set on our way of life in Bristol County. As your sheriff I will keep fighting to keep us from becoming the next community devastated by crime, where decent people are afraid to walk the streets.”

Markey quickly rebuked Hodgson on Twitter, writing: “We know what the dog whistle of antisemitism sounds like. It’s hateful and has no place in our society, let alone on a debate stage. Let’s elect @PaulHeroux for Sheriff, for real public safety leadership in Bristol County.”

The critique was echoed by a long list of others in Massachusetts politics, including U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Congressman Joe Kennedy III and the former head of the Anti-Defamation League in New England. “Blatant racism and antisemitism,” Kennedy tweeted. “Worst of all, this is par for the course for Bristol Co’s sheriff. Enough.”

Hodgson’s campaign made no apologies for the video, however, dismissing the wave of criticism as “hate.”

“Senator Markey has been a staunch supporter of the defund the police movement so we are not surprised he would make false accusations against a dedicated sheriff,” said Holly Robichaud, a spokesperson for Hodgson. “Of course, Markey stands with someone who favors sexual predators over children and is funded by dark money associated with the defund the police movement.”

Robichaud said Hodgson’s reference to Soros related specifically to the chain of funders behind the group Working Families Party Massachusetts, which has spent $233,000 on the race for sheriff so far.

She noted that Working Families Party has reported getting $250,000 from a North Carolina-based group called Sheriffs For Trusting Communities. The Intercept, a left-wing news outlet, previously reported that Sheriffs for Trusting Communities is in turn partly funded by Data for Progress, a progressive group. And Data for Progress has been funded by a third organization, Tides Advocacy.

Robichaud argued there is a connection to Soros because Tides Advocacy also helped fund the progressive group MoveOn, and MoveOn has received support from Soros. She also noted that Everytown is funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who she said has “teamed up” with Soros in the past.

But Jesse Mermell, a spokesperson for the Working Families Party’s independent expenditure group in Massachusetts, denied the allegation.

“Sheriff Hodgson’s ad is not only racist and anti-Semitic, it is untrue,” she said. “As one can see in the public filings for this independent expenditure, there have been no contributions from the Soros family or any related entity.”

The Hodgson campaign separately pointed out that The Boston Globe’s retired longtime State House bureau chief, Frank Phillips, has publicly condemned the outside money backing Heroux as “untraceable” and “reprehensible.”

In response to the charges of antisemitism, Hodgson’s team cited the fact that his parents are buried in Israel. The sheriff’s father, the late John G. Hodgson, traveled there for years as founder and president of the Catholic Travel Office, a company that organized religious-themed trips. (He was known as “Sir John Hodgson” after being knighted by the Vatican.)

There was no immediate comment on the video from Hodgson’s most high-profile supporter, outgoing Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, whose allied super PAC has been spending money to help the sheriff keep his job.

Hodgson has served as Bristol County sheriff since 1997, when he was appointed by then-Gov. William Weld. But he has drawn increasing ire from Democrats over the last decade for his strong support of Donald Trump as well as his treatment of prisoners in the county jails that he oversees.

Heroux, currently the mayor of Attleboro, is giving Hodgson his first contested election in 12 years. The pair met for their only televised debate last Friday on WPRI 12, and the winner will serve a six-year term as sheriff.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook