A prominent Minneapolis business owner has told Mayor Jacob Frey he’s banned from his premises because Frey vetoed a contentious city council resolution over the Israel-Hamas war — but Frey says the gesture is an example of a new wave of antisemitism.
Basim Sabri, a prominent —and controversial — local real estate magnate, emailed Frey days after the mayor vetoed the resolution, which called for a ceasefire and an end to U.S. military aid to Israel. The letter informs Frey he’s no longer welcome at Sabri’s Karmel Mall, a south Minneapolis complex of Somali shops and restaurants.
The council overrode Frey’s veto last week.
“I thought you were just a Jew but it appears that you lean toward the other extreme,” Sabri wrote, in part, in the email obtained by the Star Tribune.
Despite the reference to it in his message, Sabri said Frey’s identity as a Jew has nothing to do with his decision to bar the mayor from his property. He said the move was prompted by Frey’s veto of the council resolution, an act Sabri equated with failing to condemn what he sees as anti-Palestinian policies by Israel.
“This letter is to let you know that I am breaking ties with you and that I no longer have any trust or faith in you since many of your actions are contradictory to humanity and to the Somali and immigrant communities,” Sabri’s email continues. “Therefore, please consider this a formal notice of trespass from the Karmel malls located at 2910 Pillsbury Ave. S. and 200 W. Lake St.”
Sabri’s Karmell Mall complex is a bustling commercial and social hub for the Somali community.
The feud is both idiosyncratic — Sabri is a singular figure who has long tussled with city leaders and went to federal prison for bribing one — and representative of a wider concern: the schisms that have emerged across the city and at City Hall over the Israel-Hamas war.
Born in Palestine, Sabri speaks of a scar he still bears from a rubber bullet fired by Israeli security forces.
Frey, the only Jew holding elected office in the city, has voiced his objections to the council majority’s insistence on language that many Jews felt was one-sided because it failed to balance the historical struggle of the occupied Palestinian people with that of Jewish Israelis seeking refuge after the Holocaust.
Sabri called the resolution “honorable” but said he wouldn’t have opposed adding language to respect Israel’s heritage.
Without naming Sabri or the business, Frey mentioned the email last week to reporters after the council overrode his veto, casting it as an example of antisemitism he and Jews across the metro have felt in recent months.
“Whether that’s some form of terror inflicted on my temple, or stickers placed on Jewish goods in the grocery store, or even in an email we received yesterday banning me from a store, are we really at that point right now, where people are getting banned from a store for little more than who they are or a position they hold?” Frey said. “We’ve seen this before in America. It’s horrid, and it should have no place in our city.”
As Frey noted, Islamophobic incidents rose as well after Oct. 7, when Hamas invaded Israel and killed civilians. That preceded Israel’s military response that has ravaged Gaza, killing many times more civilians in a campaign some pro-Palestinians have equated to genocide.
In an interview Monday, Sabri laughed when told that Frey felt attacked as a Jew for the email’s wording.
“I don’t have an issue with Jews, but when I say ‘the other extreme, I mean Zionism,” Sabri said. “You know the difference?”
While Zionism is a movement supporting a Jewish state that predates the establishment of Israel, it’s also been used to cloak anti-Jewish statements — a phenomenon Facebook is wrestling with today in the multitude of social media posts that are seen by some as blurring the lines between criticism of Israel’s actions, but of the Jewish people.
In his veto letter, Frey, who says he doesn’t support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and supports an independent Palestinian state, called out what he perceived as antisemitic uses of Zionism in the city.
“Council Members have given public statements in front of signs reading ‘U.S.A. is occupied by Zionists more than Palestine’ — which is based on a centuries-old trope,” Frey wrote.
As far as banning an elected official from his properties, this isn’t the first time Sabri’s done it. In 2012, he enacted a ban on then-Council Member Robert Lilligren and an aide from a number of his properties at a low point during a feud between Sabri and city inspectors. At the time, Sabri told the Star Tribune he’d be more willing to sit down and talk with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than Lilligren.
The banishment was rooted in a city ordinance that allows a property owner to bar a person from a property for up to a year. On Monday, Sabri said he believed state trespassing law also give him the right to ban someone.
When asked whether banning someone for their political views — and perhaps their cultural identity — would still be appropriate, Sabri responded: “I’m not a lawyer, but I believe I could tell you that you’re not welcome in my house. That’s my right.”