Painted by conservative outlets and his Republican foe as anti-Israel, Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for Florida governor, is stressing his opposition to a movement to financially punish the state of Israel and explaining his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while on the stump.
Gillum, who spoke on the issues Sunday during a visit to Miami Beach, says that he’s been against the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement during the entirety of his gubernatorial run, despite what he calls inaccurate reports of a shifting stance. A campaign spokesman for the Tallahassee mayor also explained that Gillum’s association with organizations that back the BDS movement or oppose anti-boycott legislation shouldn’t be construed as support for those positions.
“I do not support BDS,” Gillum said in a statement that expounded on his belief that peace in the Middle East hinges on Israel’s recognition of a Palestinian nation through legitimate negotiations. “A two-state solution is the only solution that truly pushes us towards peace. I’ll always support the right to free speech and peaceful protest, but I also believe that any tactics that seek to counter a two-state solution makes our path to peace harder.”
Though Florida’s governor has little sway over diplomatic relations with Israel, Gillum’s positions are consequential when considering the state’s substantial Jewish population, which is estimated somewhere around 630,000. Jewish voters have historically voted Democratic, and Gillum could suffer if the demographic becomes wary of his policies.
Though Gillum says he has not wavered, his position on Israel has been openly debated and attacked by GOP nominee Ron DeSantis and conservative outlets like Breitbart over the first three weeks of the general election campaign for governor. They have focused on a June 30 interview he gave in Miami during which he characterized the Israeli military’s response to Palestinian rocket attacks as “outsized to the threat they’re attempting to squelch,” and said Donald Trump’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusaelm “was a provocation by the president that was unnecessary.”
Gillum, who has made three trips to Israel, also received financial support during the primary campaign from Dream Defenders, a social justice organization that backs BDS — a Palestinian-led movement to financially pressure Israel into ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and a social system critics say is similar to South Africa’s apartheid. Gillum also gave an introductory speech two years ago at a Muslim advocacy event organized at the state capitol by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, during which participants lobbied lawmakers against a bill to divest the state from entities engaged with the BDS movement.
“I was the leader in the U.S. Congress in convincing President Trump to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal and indivisible capital,” DeSantis told reporters during the early days of his campaign against Gillum. “I was happy to lead that effort. I was happy to be there when the embassy was unveiled. Andrew Gillum just recently says that he opposes having our embassy in Jerusalem. I think he believes Jerusalem should be divided.”
Gillum’s campaign told the Miami Herald he stands by a June interview during which he condemned “the murder on all sides.” They also said his opposition to moving the embassy to Jerusalem shouldn’t be conflated as a position for a divided holy city.
“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and Mayor Gillum looks forward to the day when Jerusalem is both the capital of Israel and the capital of an independent Palestine,” spokesman Geoff Burgan said.
According to Burgan, Gillum has no intention of trying to repeal or undercut the 2016 law that forced the state’s divestment from companies that engage in an Israeli boycott. Burgan said Gillum “wouldn’t support any changes and would enforce that law.”
Burgan also said Gillum’s speech last year at the open of Florida Muslim Capitol Day was done as a function of his position as the mayor of Florida’s capital, and was not an embrace of the positions held by CAIR, which has been accused of its own extremist ties.
Additionally, Burgan pushed back on an Orlando Weekly story this month that described a shift in Israeli policy for Gillum. The story keyed on a previously unreported policy paper distributed by Gillum’s campaign that stated his opposition to BDS and support for Florida’s divestment law, but Burgan said the policy paper has been distributed to supporters for more than a year.
“Our campaign’s position paper was written well over a year ago and has been distributed to interested groups and voters since then; it’s not a new document,” he said.
Ira Sheskin, the chairman of the University of Miami’s Department of Geography and Regional Studies, said his own research has shown that Jewish voters don’t typically place heavy weight on a candidate’s views toward Israel, although he said a candidate who favored a boycott of the country would surely lose some votes.
“In terms of how they make up their mind, Israel is not in the top 5” issues, said Sheskin, who studies demography of the American Jewish community and written books on Jews and politics. “They’re the same things that the rest of America is voting on.”
Still, sensitive to questions about his position, Gillum made sure to discuss the issue Sunday during an intimate gathering at the Miami Beach home of lobbyist and Democratic booster Alex Heckler. Miami-Dade Comissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who attended, said Heckler asked Gillum to state his position as he spoke to the room, but said the mayor had also pulled her aside earlier to discuss it.
“I think it’s very unfortunate to try and tarnish the positive and Democratic ideas of a candidate, to try to create hysteria where none should exist,” Levine Cava said of attempts to cast Gillum as anti-Israel. “I was glad to put the issue to rest.”