Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum has aligned himself with several prominent anti-Semitic organizations known for promoting boycotts of Jewish goods and individuals, fueling questions about how the Democratic candidate would handle issues of import to the state's large pro-Israel community.
Gillum, who is riding a progressive a wave of young Democrats highly critical of Israel, is running against Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), a prominent Israel supporter. The Democrat has a history of working with several organizations promoting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, an anti-Semitic movement that seeks to wage economic and political warfare on the Jewish state.
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Gillum's open association with these organizations is raising questions in the pro-Israel community, particularly as U.S. states seek to slash ties with BDS organizations and prevent taxpayer funds from supporting these movements. While Gillum has committed to "push back against anti-Israel efforts, like BDS," he has not distanced himself from several organizations leading the charge.
DeSantis, meanwhile, has positioned himself firmly against the BDS movement and is the co-author of legislation that will protect American businesses from being pressured into backing Israel boycotts. The issue is likely to be raised with both candidates as the gubernatorial contest heats up in a state with many Jewish voters.
DeSantis said he is concerned and dismayed by Gillum's ties to radical anti-Israel groups.
"In all my years in Florida, I’ve never seen a candidate for state office who has been as anti-Israel as Andrew Gillum," DeSantis told the Washington Free Beacon in an interview. "He opposes our embassy in Jerusalem, he does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal and indivisible capital, and he even criticizes Israel’s response against Hamas [militants] in May of 2018. His anti-Israel views are part and parcel of his overall far left wing, Democrat socialist agenda. He doesn’t share the values of the vast majority of people in Florida with his position."
Gillum could face tough questions about his associations with several anti-Israel groups that support boycotts and have ties to individuals convicted of committing terror acts against Israel.
One such group, Dream Defenders, has publicly endorsed Gillum, describing him as one of the "most progressive" candidates in the country.
Gillum has touted the organization in public remarks, saying he is "pleased and proud" to be endorsed by it.
Dream Defenders, a Florida-based advocacy group that has emerged as a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, supports efforts to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and is intertwined with backers of the BDS movement, which has made common cause with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Dream Defenders routinely criticizes Israel for perpetuating what it describes as a "genocide" of the Palestinians and has led at least "two delegations to Palestine" in recent years, according to the organization's website.
"Palestine is the site of a continued settler colonial project, the state of Israel," Dream Defenders writes on its website, employing language used by many anti-Israel groups to delegitimize Israel. "The colonial project was born out of a political ideology called Zionism, established in the late 19th century."
On one of its 2016 trips to the region, Dream Defenders employed convicted terrorist Mahmoud Jeddah as a tour guide. Jeddah, a onetime member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, spent 17 years in an Israeli prison for planting four hand grenades on a Jerusalem street, wounding nine civilians. He was later released in a prisoner swap.
One of the group's co-founders and former members, Ahmad Abuznaid, has a long history of anti-Israel activism and of promoting the BDS movement, according to the watchdog Canary Mission, which tracks anti-Semitic activism online.
As with numerous organizations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, Dream Defenders has adopted Palestine as one of its pet issues and regularly promotes anti-Israel materials, according to an investigation by Legal Insurrection, which has documented the organization's evolution.
Gillum has also supported and attended the Rockwood Leadership Institute, an organization financed by the New Israel Fund, a chief promoter of Israel boycotts and materials maligning the Jewish state.
One alum of the institute is Linda Sarsour, a prominent anti-Israel activist who has disseminated anti-Semitic materials and has been labeled by pro-Israel organizations as a chief promoter of the BDS movement.
On Aug. 29, Gillum appeared on a podcast called GHOGH, hosted by Jamarlin Martin, where he was asked about the recent campaign by Hamas to infiltrate terrorist cells across the Israel-Gaza border under cover of civilian rioting.
Martin referred to some "60 Palestinians who were throwing rocks and protesting what I view as apartheid, they don't deserve to be shot. Can you speak to the 60 Palestinians that were murdered and the lack of a Democratic [Party] condemnation of that human rights violation?"
Gillum responded to the claim Palestinians were murdered while protesting apartheid by saying, "None of us can look at those images and be okay with it … at the hands of this [Trump] administration, we now have even cited more violence by recognizing Jerusalem to be the capital [of Israel] and also to locate the United States embassy there, again just adding more fuel to the fire. I think it was a provocation by the president that was unnecessary and it has been costly from a human toll."
Later in the interview, Gillum characterized Israel's response to rocket attacks on its citizens as "in my opinion, an outsized response that has created a humanitarian crisis."