Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer is coming under scrutiny for declining to take a stance on boycotts of Israel and congressional legislation aimed at cutting funding to groups backing such efforts, raising further questions about her support for Israel in light of her running mate's earlier support for the Hamas terrorist group and harsh criticism of Israel's supporters.
During a town hall event with constituents earlier this week, Whitmer avoided answering questions about boycotts of Israel and her stance on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, an anti-Israel effort aimed at isolating the Jewish state and choking its economy.
Asked where she stands with respect to the BDS movement, Whitmer declined to take a stance, instead pivoting her remarks toward efforts to protect free speech. A cornerstone of BDS supporters' efforts to counter the pro-Israel community has focused on spinning these boycotts as a free speech matter.
Whitmer's reluctance to take a stand on BDS has raised concerns among some in the pro-Israel community, which has been fighting against a wave of far-left Democratic candidates who have openly criticized the Jewish state and opposed the United States' close alliance with Israel.
Questions surrounding Whitmer's stance on key pro-Israel issues have been compounded by 2009 tweets from her running mate, Garlin Gilchrist, supporting Hamas and belittling those who kiss "Israel's ass."
"I recognize the fundamental rights are that we have the right to speak," Whitmer said in response to the BDS question, according to a video of the event obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "No one gets to infringe on those rights on my watch."
Rather than comment on BDS directly, Whitmer discussed what she describes as efforts to stifle free debate on healthcare issues.
"We have seen people cut off from debate for having a candid conversation about our healthcare and our bodies," she says. "Those are fundamental rights that I'm going to protect for every Michigander. There's not much more to say on that front."
Political insiders tracking the race told the Free Beacon that Whitmer's comments raise questions about her stance on Israel and related issues. As Democratic candidates seek to ride a liberal wave ahead of November that includes robust criticism of Israel, some sources are worried that Whitmer is seeking to do the same.
One veteran Democratic political operative tracking the race said Whitmer is "doing a disservice" to not only herself, but also the Democratic Party.
"She's doing a disservice to herself and the Democratic Party, not to mention good policy, by not unequivocally condemning BDS," said the source, who would only speak on background about the matter. "Hopefully, she'll clarify her remarks immediately. While no one expects her to agree with the Israeli government all the time, anything short of opposing the BDS movement hurts the cause of peace and undermines the two state solution."
Whitmer's running mate, Gilchrist, has a history of railing against the Jewish state.
In at least three separate tweets from January 2009, Gilchrist threw his support behind Hamas and accused pro-Israel supporters in the United States of "kissing Israel's ass."
"I'm suck of politicians and Evangelicals kissing Israel's ass regardless of what they do in the name of 'defense' [sic]," he wrote in one missive.
"Obama speaking could be the signal the beginnig of a new American approach; an end to the 'Israel-can-do-no-wrong' approach, [sic]" Gilchrist wrote in another.
"Hamas is a legitimately elected party that only rose to power b/c of Israeli aggression & Western complicity/enablement," he stated in a third tweet.
A second Jewish political operative working on election issues told the Free Beacon Whitmer is isolating Jewish voters.
"Gretchen Whitmer can't be trusted to stand up to the radical extremists that make up the BDS movement," the source said, speaking only on background. "She couldn't bring herself to say one word in support of Israel. Her silence is going to be clarifying for a lot of voters."
As for Gilchrist, his "closely held views on Israel and Hamas would be disqualifying. But not for Gretchen Whitmer," the source said. "People are going to question her judgment and her character. Whitmer and Gilchrist are living up to their billing as the most liberal, extreme ticket in Michigan political history."
An email to the Whitmer campaign was not immediately returned by press time.