The Republican candidate for a Minnesota House seat is facing backlash after she shared a Facebook post last week making a false claim about the state's COVID-19 response and comparing it to the Holocaust. Though she apologized and deleted the post, she later retracted the apology and said she "was forced to" apologize.
Julie Buria, a Mountain Iron city councilor and GOP-endorsed candidate for Minnesota House 6B, shared a post that said: "Any government with enough power to demand that you carry papers in order to move around freely is far more dangerous than COVID-19." Under the text was a photo of Nazi soldiers checking a man's papers and another photo of a mass grave filled with victims of the Holocaust.
News of the post, and the apology retraction, was first reported by the Mesabi Tribune.
Not only was the post incorrect — Minnesotans never had to carry papers proving they were essential workers during the stay-at-home order, which was repeatedly explained by state officials — the imagery of dead Jews and the comparison of the state's COVID-19 response to Nazis murdering 6 million Jews and 5 million others was "triggering and harmful to a number of people in our community who have first-hand experience of the Holocaust," said Carin Mrotz, executive director of Jewish Community Action, a statewide social justice organization that shared on Twitter a screenshot of Buria's post.
While Mrotz understands the comparisons of the COVID-19 response to the Nazis and Holocaust are supposed to show government overreach, she said it remains "a faulty, uneducated comparison."
"The problem is that the measures that the Nazis were taking were designed to eradicate Jews. And the measures that our government is taking are designed to eradicate a disease. And so by making this comparison of the way that you eliminate Jews and the way that you eliminate a potential-deadly virus, you're actually making Jews analogous to the virus," Mrotz told the News Tribune on Thursday.
The Tikkun Olam Committee of Temple Israel Duluth said it was "appalled and dismayed" in a letter it sent to the Mountain Iron City Council on Sunday.
"This distortion and lack of thoughtfulness is misleading and hurtful to readers both Jewish and non-Jewish," the committee wrote in the letter later shared with the News Tribune. "This type of incongruous comparison of the governor’s actions to the atrocities committed during the Holocaust dehumanizes the facts of 6 million Jews murdered and 5 million others whose lives were lost due to the travesties leading to and resulting in World War II."
An apology, then a reversal
Facing widespread outrage over the post, Buria apologized last week.
"Everyone who knows me knows that I have always been a fervent supporter of Israel and the Jewish people. I regret sharing the post and apologize for its graphic nature," Buria wrote in an email to the Mesabi Tribune.
Minnesota GOP Chair Jennifer Carnahan also told the Mesabi Tribune that Buria had apologized to them and that the party was "saddened by these vitriolic posts" comparing the COVID-19 response to the Holocaust. The Wabasha GOP Facebook page last week had also shared a similar post.
"We spoke with (Buria) following her post, and as she said in her apology, she immediately regretted the post and was sincere in her apology to not let it happen again," Carnahan said.
But at the Mountain Iron City Council meeting Monday, Buria retracted that apology and called the situation "asinine and trumped up."
"I was forced to (apologize) ... I stand for my statement," Buria told the council and members of the public in the meeting. She did not say who forced her to apologize.
Buria and the Minnesota GOP did not return calls or emails from the News Tribune seeking comment this week, and the Minnesota GOP has not commented on the matter since Buria retracted her apology.
Mountain Iron Mayor Gary Skalko, who said his grandmother was a Russian Jew who sought refuge in the U.S. in 1907, but had relatives die in the Holocaust, said the post "crossed the line."
"When you compare a pandemic, the handling of it, in this case our governor, to the Jewish community where you have a picture with a bunch of dead people in open graves there, how do you think the Jewish community is going to react?" Skalko said in the meeting.
Discussion of the post went on for more than 30 minutes.
As of Friday afternoon, Buria is still listed as the GOP-endorsed candidate for House District 6B on the Minnesota GOP's website, despite calls for the party to retract their endorsement.
Minnesota House 6B incumbent Rep. David Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, who will face Buria in November's general election, tweeted an apology "on behalf of our region" on Twitter.
"This whole situation is unfortunate and not who we want to be. To the Jewish community please accept an apology on behalf of our region," Lislegard tweeted. "Words really do matter, I ask that we all be more thoughtful in our remarks and our actions."
This whole situation is unfortunate and not who we want to be. To the Jewish community please accept an apology on behalf of our region. “Words really do matter” I ask that we all be more thoughtful in our remarks and our actions. https://t.co/ePgRtW72iU
This whole situation is unfortunate and not who we want to be. To the Jewish community please accept an apology on behalf of our region. “Words really do matter” I ask that we all be more thoughtful in our remarks and our actions. https://t.co/ePgRtW72iU— Dave Lislegard (@DaveLislegard) August 4, 2020
This story originally contained a misquote. It was updated at 7:25 p.m. August 8. Carin Mrotz said comparing the COVID-19 response to the Nazis and Holocaust was "a faulty, uneducated comparison." The News Tribune regrets the error.