Viewpoint: Florida Governor's race-A Jewish perspective


October 12, 2018

This year’s election for governor of Florida presents a great challenge to Jewish voters. Historically, most Jews vote consistently for Democratic candidates, at all levels, largely on the basis of domestic social issues. Most American Jews also feel some emotional commitment to Israel. Until recent years, this has not been a problem because most Democratic government officials and office seekers used to express support for Israel, even if this was not always borne out by their actions. Now the Democratic nominee for governor of Florida, Andrew Gillum, has welcomed support from an organization that is openly hostile to Israel and he has chosen an openly anti-Semitic running mate.

According to the Miami Herald, Gillum received financial support during his primary campaign from Dream Defenders, a Miami-based organization that receives funding from the Tides Center, linked to anti-Israel billionaire George Soros. There is a 2014 photo online of Gillum embracing Dream Defenders co-founder and executive director Philip Agnew, now known as Umi Saleh, about which Gillum wrote “Could not be prouder...” On Nov. 26, 2014, Agnew/Saleh declared on Facebook “I am not an activist, I am a militant.”

Another co-founder of Dream Defenders is Ahmad Abuznaid. He led two Dream Defenders trips to “Palestine,” in 2015 and 2016. On the 2016 trip, Dream Defenders employed Mahmoud Jedda as one of their guides. Jedda is a former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who spent 17 years in an Israeli prison for planting four hand grenades on a Jerusalem street, wounding nine civilians.

Also according to the Miami Herald, in 2016 Gillum, then serving as mayor of Tallahassee, gave an introductory speech at a Muslim advocacy event that was organized by the Council of American-Islamic Relations. During that event, participants lobbied lawmakers against a bill to divest the state from entities engaged with the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. That bill was later modified to prevent Florida from entering into any contracts with businesses or other entities that support BDS. It was passed in the State Legislature with overwhelming bi-partisan support and was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott.

In 1998, Gillum’s running mate, Chris King, ran for president of the student government at Harvard. He lost the race, and when commenting on it the next year in a Newhouse News Service article, King blamed the Harvard student newspaper, the Crimson, for his loss. King wrote “I was nailed to the cross... And most of the editorial staff that was so hard on me, the vast majority were Jewish.” According to Florida State Representative Randy Fine, King was playing on the old anti-Semitic slur that Jews control the media, banks, etc. Also according to Fine, when this quote became known during the primary campaign for governor of Florida this year, King blamed a Jewish primary opponent.

Many of Florida’s Jews have never pulled a voting machine lever or marked a ballot for a Republican. This year those voters are faced with a difficult and perhaps agonizing choice when it comes to the governor’s race. Will they vote for an ultra-liberal Democrat who is associated with an openly anti-Israel organization and has an openly anti-Semitic running mate, or will they be open-minded enough to vote for Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis, a military veteran and a staunch supporter of Israel?

DeSantis supports pro-growth, low-tax policies. DeSantis opposes Gillum’s plan to increase Florida business taxes by 40 percent, which will surely hurt small business, reduce hiring and raise the cost of everything Floridians buy. DeSantis supports vigorous efforts to protect Florida’s environment.

Could this be the year when some of Florida’s Jews break an old habit? Could this be the year when more of Florida’s Jews vote for a Republican who supports Israel over a Democrat who embraces anti-Israel support? For all our sakes, I hope this is that year.

Rabbi Sanford Olshansky has served congregations in New Jersey and Central Florida. He teaches in the Judaic Studies Program at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and is a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition at the national Leadership Level.


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