After a week of waiting to see if an apology was coming to the Jewish community, Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, and several Jewish legislators spoke out against the Republican governor candidate equating COVID mandates to the Holocaust.
“This week, from the Jewish Community Relations Council to many of Jewish leaders, they were very clear to say, ‘don’t make this analogy because it is incredibly harmful, both from the trauma but also from the diminishing of what it does.’” Walz said Friday morning at the Minnesota Capitol. “They were asked, and they were ignored. They asked again and offered to educate, and they were ignored again and again.”
Jensen hit out at critics on Tuesday, saying “this is how I think, and you don’t get to be my thought police.” Walz dismissed this notion as dangerous.
“They were not attempting to be thought police; they were attempting to be experts and advise,” he said. “And if you’re asking to be the governor of Minnesota, every single day, you’re going to have experts advise you and many times they may not align with your preconceived notions.”
Flanagan’s start in elected politics came as a state representative covering, in part, her hometown of St. Louis Park – a traditionally Jewish community. That area was recently hit by antisemitic fliers, as have several other parts of the Twin Cities.
“It was a timely reminder that rejecting antisemitism and extremism has to be taken seriously, and that starts by listening to Jewish leaders and Jewish Minnesotans,” Flanagan said. “Organizations like the (JCRC) and Jewish Community Action, and these leaders standing behind me, repeatedly asked people to stop making these exact dehumanizing comparisons that trivialize the Holocaust and experiences of trauma for Jewish people.”
Sens. Steve Cwodzinski and Sandy Pappas, and Reps. Frank Hornstein, Emma Greenman, Sandra Feist and Heather Edelson were with Walz and Flanagan. Hornstein is the son of Holocaust survivors, and Greenman’s grandfather escaped Germany for Minnesota in 1939.
“Your standing with us, the community of survivors, descendants of survivors, the Jewish community, and many other Minnesotans that find this rhetoric, so harmful, inappropriate, and divisive. Thank you so much,” said Hornstein, who added that both sets of his grandparents were murdered, as were many of his uncles and aunts and cousins. “When my family’s experience and those of 6 million mostly Jewish people are trivialized, and minimized, this desecrates their memory and desecrates proper memorialization of this one of the most heinous events in human history.”
Greenman called Jensen’s comments – and his doubling- and tripling-down – “disqualifying.”
“[My grandfather] was escaping genocide. He was escaping Nazism. He was not escaping public health life-saving measures like masks and vaccines,” she said. “Six million people died. That’s what he was escaping.”
Walz said the press conference was a way to show support for the survivors of the Holocaust who are Minnesotans, as well as their descendants after it was clear no apology was coming.
“There’s the policy piece, there is the implementation, but there is also the core moral and cultural and values that a state has,” he said. “And I think by standing here and making it very clear, that I certainly, and this lieutenant governor and our team, understand what this did, and make the case there is no place for this in Minnesota.”
Earlier Friday, Jensen reportedly said on WCCO radio that he wanted to move past this and not have to answer any more questions about this. Walz said Jensen had to take full responsibility and apologize.
“If Scott wants to move on, he needs to stand up and publicly, take full responsibility and apologize,” he said. “Then give an answer to what he got wrong and what he would do better, and then we can move on and talk about other things after that.”
How we got here
In a video first reported on by TC Jewfolk at the beginning of the week, Jensen told the assembled crowd at a Mask Off Minnesota event in April: “As is the case with so many powerful initiatives like Mask Off, it starts with one thing, but it becomes another and another and it expands. If you remember, go back to World War II. If you look at the 1930s and you look at it carefully, we could see some things happening. Little things that people chose to push aside. ‘It’s going to be okay,’” Jensen said. “And then the little things grew into something bigger. Then there was a night called Kristallnacht. The night of the breaking glass. Then there was the book burning, and it kept growing and growing, and a guy named Hitler kept growing in power, and World War II came about. Well, in a way, I think that’s why you’re here today. You sense that something’s happening, and it’s growing little by little.”
On Tuesday afternoon, hours prior to speaking at a Republican Jewish Coalition event, said he didn’t believe he was being insensitive.
“I was making a comparison between the incremental change that frequently occurs and is oftentimes missed by people living through it at the time. It’s oftentimes incremental change designed by government to effect sweeping societal changes, frequently centering on compliance and control.”
At the RJC event, Jensen tripled down. In audio first released by Heartland Signal, Jensen said that the mandates placed by Gov. Tim Walz during the height of COVID-19 “has parallels” to the rise of the Nazis, and that “Minnesota, like never before, needs to lean into the Jewish tradition of what do they do in Israel.”
“What happened with the 1933 banning of books, banning of Jewish authors, burning of books, Kristallnacht in 1938. This was a sequence of events that should never have been happening,” Jensen said. “We’re seeing the same thing in America today. We are seeing people having their businesses locked down so they cannot care for their families. We are seeing people say wear masks, don’t wear, mask wear masks, but we don’t know what to do.”
GOP history of Holocaust references in COVID restrictions
This isn’t the first time Minnesota Republicans have used Holocaust imagery in their opposition to masking and other COVID-related restrictions.
In July 2020, St. Cloud City Councilmember Paul Brandmire said at a city council meeting that COVID-positive individuals should be marked with a yellow star on their lapel. City council positions are non-partisan, but Brandmire was the GOP nominee for state house in District 14B in 2020.
A week later, the Facebook page of the Wabasha County Republican Party shared a photo of a Nazi officer speaking to a man wearing a Star of David pinned to his jacket. The text above the photo said “Just put on the star and quit complaining, it’s really not that hard,” and below the photo: “Just put on the mask and quit complaining.” The person who originally posted the photo did so with the comment: “History is repeating!” Jennifer Carnahan, then the chair of the Minnesota GOP, claimed that the group’s Facebook had been hacked.