Several local clergy signed a letter released Tuesday, calling for Republican 1st Congressional District candidate Jim Hagedorn to denounce what they’re labeling ‘anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant’ campaign ads running on his behalf.

Hagedorn and his team are pushing back, noting the ads were produced by an outside group and saying that they were not intended to attack any religion.

The ads in question are videos/commercials created by the National Republican Congressional Committee in support of Hagedorn in his CD1 race against Democrat Dan Feehan. The ads show George Soros, a Jewish multi-billionaire and Hungarian immigrant known for supporting Democratic campaigns. He is shown behind stacks of money with the words “connoisseur of chaos” and “funder of the left” written out.

Rabbi Michelle Werner, of B’Nai Israel Synagogue in Rochester, told the Rochester Post-Bulletin that the imagery is reminiscent of historic anti-Semitic campaigns.

“The depiction of a rich Jew radicalizing the world — that, in and of itself, is unconscionable,” Werner said. “It harkens back to other times in history when similar imagery was used, leading to campaigns of violence against Jews.”

Hagedorn, in an interview with Northfield News, noted, “It’s not my ad.” He pointed out that his campaign did not fund the advertisement and said he doesn’t believe the point of the ad is to deliver anti-Semitic messaging.

“It’s pointing out that Dan Feehan, personally and through his campaign, is being supported by a very liberal person,” Hagedorn said.

On Tuesday, Faith in Minnesota, an advocacy nonprofit aimed at creating a “new, people-centered politics in our state,” released a letter signed by 18 southern Minnesota clergy members, including some leaders from Faribault, Owatonna, St. Peter and other area churches. The letter recounts the Oct. 27 shootings inside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which Jewish people were targeted and 11 people were killed. It calls out people in power that have made choices that “enable, excuse and breed this type of violence,” specifically calling on Hagedorn to denounce the campaign ads in question.

“… we call on Jim Hagedorn, candidate for Congress, to denounce the anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant campaign ads running on his behalf,” the letter states. “If you do not, Mr. Hagedorn, you are contributing to the political culture that has already led to violence and death.”

Fr. Henry Doyle, who leads the congregation at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and is one of three priests at The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault, was one of the clergy signed on. Doyle said he believes some of the messaging has crossed into anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant territory, and he wanted to be part of an alternative message.

“I want to encourage people to speak more positively about people and not to cause us to be so fearful of others, hateful toward others,” he said. “I feel there is too much against, against, against and not enough for — for positive things and for encouraging that golden rule, treat others as you would like to be treated.”

Rev. Coqui Conkey, of United Church of Christ in Owatonna, also signed the letter. She said she wasn’t speaking up against any single candidate, and she doesn’t want to tell her parishioners how to vote, but she did want to take some sort of action after recent acts of violence nationwide.

“Too many ads everywhere use hatred and fear, so saying one person is the worst example, I’m not sure that is factual,” she said. “I wanted to take part, less specifically about the Hagedorn campaign, and more generally because of the attitudes of hate. I think there are many times we need to stand and say something.”

Hagedorn said his team doesn’t believe the NRCC ads are airing anymore but did not denounce them. He said that claims of anti-Semitism would be better focused against Democratic Attorney General candidate Keith Ellison, who he said has ties to other anti-Semitic figures.

Hagedorn’s campaign manager, Gregg Peppin, added “we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms” and reiterated the ads were aimed at the “financing” of Feehan’s campaign by George Soros.

Feehan’s team, meanwhile, has denied being funded by Soros and is critical of Hagedorn’s connection to the ad.

“Independent fact checkers have rated the claims in this ad false and faith leaders across southern Minnesota have stood up to this dangerous fear-mongering,” Feehan Campaign Manager Sean Oyaas said. “Southern Minnesotans deserve better than this false and hateful rhetoric and it’s disturbing that Jim Hagedorn refuses to condemn it.”

Reach Associate Editor Philip Weyhe at 507-645-1115 or follow him on Twitter @nfnphilweyhe.

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