The battle for Jewish voters in the race for Florida governor escalated another notch Sunday when the Jewish outreach chairman for GOP nominee Ron DeSantis’ suggested his Democratic opponent might veto security funding for Jewish day schools.
While introducing DeSantis to a crowd at Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El in Plantation, Randy Fine, the only Republican Jewish lawmaker in the Florida Legislature, warmed up the audience by describing the stakes of the election. He suggested that Democrat Andrew Gillum might ignore a relatively new law banning the state government from doing business with companies that support a boycott of the nation of Israel. And then Fine mentioned that, over the past two years, the state of Florida has allocated $2.65 million to fund security at Jewish day schools.
“Here’s what I want you to know: When we pass a law it has to be overturned for it to go away. But when it comes to funding, the governor every single year has the ability to line item veto that funding,” Fine said. “So if we have $2 million in the budget next year to make sure Jewish children who go to Jewish schools are safe even though they are Jewish, which one of the candidates running for governor do we believe would sign that into law and which one do we believe might veto that? That is a decision that is at stake.”
The Gillum campaign called the assertion absurd.
“Rep. Fine is doing himself and his constituents a deep disservice by spreading lies and conspiracy theories like this,” Gillum campaign spokeswoman Carlie Waible said in a statement. “Mayor Gillum strongly supports the $2 million in funding for security at Jewish Day Schools — and Rep. Fine knows it.”
The back-and-forth is just the latest in a contentious and long-running tussle between the DeSantis and Gillum campaigns as they fight for support among Florida’s Jewish community. In what polls and history show to be a tight race, both candidates are aggressively courting a Jewish community that is estimated at about 630,000 strong and known to be a reliable and predominately Democratic voting bloc.
Last week, Gillum was in Pembroke Pines with Jewish U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushing back on a DeSantis campaign narrative that he’s anti-Israel and touting his ties to the Jewish community. Gillum suggested that, were it not for the support of his grandfather’s Jewish employer, his father might have never met his mother and he may never have been born.
But DeSantis was a staunch supporter of Israel during his three terms in Congress, and has argued that Gillum surrounds himself with anti-Semites. He continues to hammer Gillum for accepting support from the Dream Defenders, a Miami-based group that has backed the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, and for welcoming a Muslim-American civil rights organization to Tallahassee as it lobbied against legislation to divest the state from pro-BDS companies.
“BDS is nothing more than warmed-over anti-Semitism,” DeSantis told a crowd his campaign estimated around 300 strong. “I would never seek nor accept support political or otherwise from a group that supports a boycott of Israel.”
DeSantis, meanwhile, said his wife bottled water from the Sea of Galilee during her last trip to Israel and saved it for their daughter’s baptism. He also pledged that, once elected, his first international trip as governor would be to Israel, where he said he wants to forge stronger trade bonds.
DeSantis mentioned that he’s been working to increase school security with Andrew Pollack, the Jewish father of a slain Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, and recently attended a private unveiling of her tombstone. And he said that traveling to Israel for the dedication of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem after lobbying the president to make the move was perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his professional career.
“As soon as I take the oath of office, that very day, we’ll have the most pro-Israel governor in the country,” DeSantis said.
Gillum’s campaign has been sensitive to the criticisms, and stressed that the Tallahassee mayor has traveled to Israel three times. Gillum also says he would enforce the state’s law prohibiting business with pro-BDS companies and would not seek to overturn it.
But DeSantis scoffed at that position during a post-speech interview with reporters, calling it a “conversion of convenience.”
“He’s on the radical left. For whatever reason, they have their sights set on Israel,” DeSantis said. “I think he realizes that actively running on that position would be fatal to his candidacy so I think people advised him to try to dial that back. I just don’t think it’s credible.”