U.S. Attorney Andy Luger talked about being on the bimah at Temple Israel in 2015 when reports of Islamophobia were on the rise in response to attacks by the Islamic State group.
“I never envisioned a time when we would be back, Rabbi [Marcia] Zimmerman, Steve Hunegs, and me, only now to talk about hatred of the Jewish community,” Luger said Thursday night at Temple Israel. He was part of the Town Hall on Antisemitism and the Safety of the Jewish Community, along with Hunegs, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, the JCRC’s Rob Allen, and FBI Special Agent Joy Hess.
“It was inconceivable to think that hatred against Jews would in 2024 become a part of our everyday lives,” Luger said. “But it is, and just as we did in 2015 with the rise of Islamophobia, today we have important work to do work that is critical to the Jewish community, but that is also necessary for the health of the state of Minnesota. Because our history tells us that when antisemitism goes unaddressed, all who believe in freedom and democracy suffer.”
Allen, who is the JCRC’s director of community security, said that reports of antisemitism have steadily increased in Minnesota. He acknowledged that part of that comes from the JCRC encouraging people to report them. In 2019, the numbers crept into the 40s for the first time, and on Oct. 6, there had already been 38 reported incidents. The year ended with 97.
“Many horrible things happened on October 7, but the anger and vitriol directed at the Jewish community has made me very concerned about the safety of the community,” Allen said. He said there have been grave desecrations and antisemitic graffiti and in places that are “obviously” part of the Jewish community. He also mentioned phone and email threats to the community institutions. “It’s horrifying to receive, but we have to have a strong reaction and not let that influence our willingness to get together and gather. The solution here is not to isolate yourself, but … be together.”
In the last 13 months, there have been more than 700 bomb threats made to Jewish organizations – more than half of those since mid-December.
“It’s terrifying for the person who receives it, and we have to name that,” Allen said. “But I also want to talk about the importance of thinking about how we react.”
Hess said that the FBI can quickly ascertain the credibility of those threats.
“The vast majority of those have been from a few known actors who are actually not even in the United States. And we can verify that very quickly,” Hess said. “They’re not necessarily looking to specifically target the Jewish community. They are looking to sow division within the United States. That has always been their goal and it will continue to be their goal.”
Hess also spent time explaining to the crowd the difference between free speech and a hate crime. The flyers that people affiliated with a West Coast-based antisemitic group spread in many neighborhoods in St. Paul, St. Louis Park, and Edina, are not a hate crime.
“Non-threatening hate conduct is protected under the First Amendment,” Hess said. “That is our First Amendment right to offend people by what we say. Social media has made that so prolific, that we tend to feel threatened by a lot of things that are protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment does not protect threats.”