Deep divisions among Minnesota Democrats over the Israel-Hamas war spilled out into the open on Thursday when more than a dozen Senate DFLers called out a colleague for comments about Palestinians that they said were "dehumanizing" and inflammatory.
Their rebuke followed a Wednesday news conference where Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, spoke out against the movement pushing to divest state resources in Israel. But his colleagues said Latz's comments veered into sweeping generalizations about Palestinian children and how "poisonous Gaza has become for Israel."
"Palestinian youth dream of the opportunity to achieve glory and even martyrdom by killing as many Jews as possible," he said. "Is it any wonder that these same children grow up and call their parents after slaughtering innocent concertgoers in the desert to brag about killing 10 Jews, saying, 'Mama, aren't you proud of me?'" he continued, referencing a recording of a Hamas fighter after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
"He recited a litany of hateful, prejudicial and demonstrably false claims," read a statement signed by 13 DFL senators. "Through his language, Senator Latz assigned nefarious motives to Palestinian children, describing them all as aspiring murderers. His remarks were irresponsible and dangerous."
Latz, a six-term legislator who is Jewish, said his critics are taking one sentence of his remarks out of context.
"The six sentences preceding the one they are criticizing make it clear that I'm not referring to all Palestinian youth but rather Gazans who are taught at Hamas-controlled UNRWA schools that Jews should be killed," Latz wrote in a statement posted on X. "Who attend summer camps that teach young kids how to be terrorists; who play 'kill the Jew' on the streets of Gaza; who watch children's TV shows that glorify the killing of the Jews; and who play on UNRWA elementary school playgrounds with plastic AK-47s."
Latz joined Jewish groups Wednesday to speak out against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, whose members were urging the state's Board of Investment to pull any government investments out of Israel. He said their movement is antisemitic and seeks the end of the Jewish state.
"Divestment would move the needle in the wrong direction. Instead it would give comfort and encouragement to a movement fundamentally dedicated to the destruction of Israel," he said.
But his comments about Palestinians were what raised concerns for his colleagues, who said he used "degrading language to describe entire populations of people."
"The language we use, especially at this moment, matters," read the statement from his colleagues. The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) called his comments Islamophobic and asked other Democratic leaders to formally denounce his statements.
Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, also spoke at the Wednesday news conference with Latz. He said in a statement that while everyone should be "immensely cautious to avoid using generalizations and dehumanizing language," there was nothing "hateful, prejudicial, or false in describing Hamas — a terrorist dictatorship guilty of war crimes against both Israelis and the Palestinians it governs — as toxic."
The division among Senate DFLers is the latest internal party flare-up over the ongoing conflict. In October, DFL Party Chair Ken Martin lambasted the Twin Cities chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America after the group shared a "statement of solidarity with Palestine" in the wake of Hamas attacks on Israel. The Twin Cities DSA chapter later clarified its position, saying it "strongly condemn[s] attacks on civilians by Hamas."
Martin said in a statement Thursday that "inflammatory rhetoric from elected officials is counterproductive to addressing rising Islamophobia and antisemitism."
"All DFLers should set a better example and avoid applying broad generalizations to entire groups of people," he said. "Part of our values as DFLers is our recognition of the humanity of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples."