Grassroots Organizing Puts Combating Antisemitism Resolutions Front & Center

Although voting in the presidential primary on March 5 got most of the attention, the precinct caucuses a week earlier are big drivers of which candidates will get endorsed, but also where the parties are going in terms of issues. And whether people like it or not, the war between Israel and Hamas has become a local issue, which is why in advance of this year’s caucuses, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas helped train people to advocate at these gatherings.

Seventy-nine unique caucus precincts had participation from JCRC-trained participants, where a JCRC-written resolution was passed in 72 of them – 69 without any amendments added.

The resolution read: “The Minnesota DFL (or GOP) condemns antisemitism in all of its forms, including the targeting of Jews as individuals, as a people, or denial of the right of the State of Israel to exist, and is committed to combating anti-Jewish bias in all of its manifestations.

“- Jews constitute only ¼ of 1% of the world’s population, 2.4% of the population nationally, and less than 1% of Minnesota’s population and yet according to the FBI, Jews are 63% of the victims of reported religiously motivated hate crimes.

“- According to the “The State of Antisemitism in America 2023” by the American Jewish Committee, only 3% of American Jews believe the status of Jews in the United States is more secure compared to one year ago, 86% of American Jews think that antisemitism has increased in the United States in the past five years, and 85% of American Jews and 84% of the general public view the statement, “Israel has no right to exist,” as antisemitic.”

Ethan Roberts, the deputy executive director of the JCRC, said the success wasn’t about the JCRC.

“This was about people showing up. The weather was not great and those meetings are long,” he said. “You have to stick around; you’re not in and out. This is emblematic of grassroots advocacy. People deeply care.”

The JCRC resolution passed with amendments in three precincts, was not introduced in five precincts, and failed to pass after being introduced in three. Additionally, 92 people were selected as DFL delegates and three were selected as GOP delegates for the senate district conventions; if chosen, they’ll move on to state conventions.

The people involved were the ones that the JCRC knew about ahead of time. Julie Idelkope, a former lobbyist who was volunteering with the JCRC to train the people who signed up, knew many other Jewish members of the community at her caucus in Golden Valley who hadn’t signed up.

Part of the impetus for Idelkope getting involved in this way – other than being cousins with JCRC Executive Director Steve Hunegs – was seeing in her network how people were feeling after the attack of October 7.

“After October 7, we were all horrified and concerned, and really kind of focusing on what we could do,” Idelkope said. “While the Jewish community knows voting in a primary is important…getting involved at that stage is too late.”

Idelkope said she knew that there would be groups leaning on local politicians, either groups looking for a call for ceasefire, or groups opposing the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanction movement.

“We have an opportunity here,” she said to Hunegs and a couple of JCRC board members. “Let’s organize for precinct caucuses. Let’s start meeting with legislators and make sure that they’re really hearing from the community.”

“The elected officials that I know who are not Jewish – who are allies – were just completely unaware of what October 7 meant to us as the Minnesota Jewish community,” she said. 

As the JCRC resolution pointed out, the Jewish community is less than 1 percent of Minnesota’s population, and Idelkope that that many legislators don’t have a Jewish constituency, so they didn’t know how many in the community were feeling.

“They were completely unaware of some of the issues that were going on in a lot of the schools and a lot of just how terrified people were feeling and what they were seeing as antisemitic activity on the far left,” she said. “More and more I would talk to people that are either elected officials or very engaged civic leaders, and when I would bring up what was going on in our with our community and what we’re feeling, they were completely shocked and not seeing any of it.”

Sami Rahamim, the director of communications and community relations at JCRC, said he was the only person at his caucus who brought the resolution forward.

“It was a great opportunity to share the experience of being Jewish since October 7, and give people to the opportunity to be an ally by condemning antisemitism,” he said. “When the objection is raised that not all Jews agree that denying Israel’s existence is antisemitic, it’s why we had the polling data in the statement. We’re encouraging the [parties] to stand with the 85 percent that feel this way. We can acknowledge the 15 percent, but they are not the ones who write the resolutions on antisemitism.”

Said Roberts: “Eighty-four percent of Americans don’t agree on anything. Why would you not want to be on that side?”

Nearly two months after the process started, the slow wheels of democracy are still turning. For those precincts that passed this and other resolutions in February, the work their way to senate district conventions taking place this month, before congressional, and later state conventions for both the DFL and GOP. But for both parties, it can be a heavy lift to get resolutions through.

In both party conventions, resolutions and amendments to the party platforms require 60% approval to pass.

“There are a lot of Republicans for whom it’s a big issue,” said Anna Mathews, the executive director of the Minnesota GOP. “At a state central committee meeting, was a resolution passed supporting Israel. I would guess something would be added to the platform.”

On the DFL side, executive director Ken Martin said there are resolutions that both condemn antisemitism and call for a ceasefire.

“I don’t think its improbable to imagine both resolutions end up passing,” Martin said. “The resolution on a call to end antisemitism doesn’t really address the issue in Gaza. The ceasefire resolution moving through is more about that. There is a world where both of those pass.

Rahamim said that it’s inspiring and admirable to see people getting involved at “the most local, most tedious level. But it’s all  But all in the spirit of showing up because that’s what this moment demands of us.”