A growing number of people, including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, have denounced a new gay-friendly bar scheduled to open later this month after allegations that the owner has a history of posting hateful sentiments toward Jewish people on social media.
This week, a bar called Cheers launched a GoFundMe page asking for $1.5 million in donations to aid in its mission to “preserve the LGBTQ community.” Cheers planned to open June 21 — the weekend of Twin Cities Pride — at 1933 Lyndale Av. S., the space formerly occupied by Rudolph’s Bar-B-Que.
Andy Birkey, a former journalist, said he saw the GoFundMe campaign and wanted to know more about the ownership. Birkey’s online sleuthing led him to the Facebook page of owner Emad Abed.
The page contained several posts attacking members of the Jewish faith and calling Americans “stupid” for their alliance with Israel.
“I hate Israel, and Israelis, I hate America for supporting Israel,” reads one post, provided in a screenshot by Birkey. “America is run by Zionist Jews. The Average American is dumb.”
“Did you know Israel and it’s [sic] people must be eliminated from existence?” reads another, which goes on to compare Israelis to “cancer.”
“I was really shocked,” Birkey said Wednesday.
Birkey posted his research and the screenshots to Facebook, where they quickly spread, eliciting criticism on Twitter from many quarters, including Frey.
“Jews across the world have experienced that kind of exceedingly hateful rhetoric for generations,” said Frey, who is Jewish, in an interview Wednesday. “It’s scary that oftentimes action is tied with it.”
Frey said he didn’t know if the bar would open, and he said Abed is constitutionally allowed to say what he wants.
“I’m also allowed to say what I want,” the mayor said. “And what I’ll be telling people is they should take their pride, their spirit and their community to other welcoming LGBTQ bars.”
Reached by phone Wednesday, Abed denied that he wrote the posts, saying they were fabricated.
“I told them a million times on that thread that I’m not anti-Semitic,” he said. “My best friends are Jewish. I love them, they love me.”
He said those attacking him on social media are not welcome in his bar, and he plans to sue his critics. “They are dust to me,” he said. “You know dust?”
Birkey maintains the screenshots are real. He provided raw screenshots of Abed’s Facebook page — which has since been made private — to the Star Tribune, which matched the images he posted. Other Facebook users have also posted images of Abed’s Facebook that match Birkey’s. Abed told City Pages the posts were his.
Despite the criticism, bar manager Nate McClaine said he still plans to open Cheers.
McClaine said he met Abed after responding to a Craigslist ad last December seeking a bar manager. He and his boyfriend have spent the past six months getting ready, he said.
“I can’t say anything about the owner’s beliefs,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to make this better.”
Rallies against bar
Among those who noticed Birkey’s post was Sam Doten, who helped plan a protest titled “Queers Against Cheers,” set to take place at Cheers on the opening day. As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 300 people said on Facebook they planned to attend.
“An owner of a restaurant isn’t going to come in and ask for a million-and-a-half-dollars for an unproven business and think he can come in and make a buck off our community while insulting us,” Doten said.
A benefit is also scheduled to take place June 13 at 7th Street Entry titled, “L’Chaim: Twin Cities Unite to Fight Anti-Semitism and Hatred.”
Chad Kampe, a party promoter who helped plan the event, said he was shocked to see the posts.
“Being in a marginalized community already and having somebody from outside come in and try to profit off that community without doing any diligence or any work within that community is always problematic,” said Kampe, who is gay and Jewish.
“I personally don’t think this bar is going to open,” he said. “Knowing our community here, they will do whatever it takes to make sure it does not open.”