Viewpoint: Let's keep it to the facts


October 26, 2018

Rabbinic debate has a long history in Judaism. In that spirit, I am responding respectfully to Rabbi Sanford’s Olshansky’s article in the Heritage accusing Mayor Andrew Gillum of being anti-Israel and Chris King of being anti-Semitic. Both charges are extremely serious and should not be made without full investigation, knowing all of the facts, and speaking to those who personally know them. Truth is a basic value in Judaism and we are not permitted to accuse someone of something that is not true in order to create fear of that person. How often this has been done to us as Jews!

Rabbi Olshanky connects Andrew Gillum to Dream Defenders and then goes on to tell us all of the negative things related to Israel the organization does. The extrapolation, therefore is that Gillum is himself anti-Israel. What he fails to say is that Gillum is not a member of this organization nor closely allied with them. He supports their fight for human rights. They were in our own community protesting against Trayvon Martin’s murder. But Mayor Gillum does not support their positions on Israel. I wonder if those who stand with evangelicals support of Israel should be accused of supporting all of the issues these evangelicals believe in, many of which the Jewish community strongly opposes?

Here are the facts. Andrew Gillum is on record against BDS, has been to Israel three times, once while missiles were launched into Israel and was deeply affected by this. He has connected Tallahassee to a sister city in Israel. A very close rabbinic colleague of mine in Tallahassee has known Mayor Gillum for 15 years and over the years has told me of the mayor’s strong support of Israel.

But even more despicable to me is accusing Chris King of being anti-Semitic: A charge that should not be taken lightly. This conclusion is based upon a single foolish statement he made at 19 years of age. He has apologized and repented for this statement right after it happened. There is absolutely no other evidence to make this claim. But here are the facts. I know Chris King and his family. He is one of the most open, compassionate and embracing strongly religious people I know. He maternal grandfather was a physician in World War II and liberated a concentration camp. That experience deeply affected his grandfather and he taught it to his children, including Chris’s mother Marilyn. She went on a quest to understand how the Christianity she loved could do that to Jews. She served on the board of The Holocaust Center, was involved in bringing Elie Wiesel to Orlando, and taught her children to ensure that this would never happen again. Chris is very close to many in our own Jewish community confiding in them like family. Do these facts sound like someone who is anti-Semitic? It is unworthy and mean spirited to make such charges in order to scare the Jewish community away from him.

This is not about suggesting the way people should vote. In fact, I would say the same thing about those who have accused Representative Ron DeSantis of being a white supremacist and a racist. Do not draw conclusions until you know the facts. Judaism has a long history of this and it is an important lesson in order to maintain standards and norms in a society that seems to be drifting away from these.

Rabbi Steven Engel is cohost of Friends Talking Faith with The Three Wise Guys.


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