Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis (L) speaks about his Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum during a CNN debate in Tampa, Florida, earlier this week. (Chris O'Meara-Pool/Getty Images)

Ahead of U.S. Mid-term Elections, Anti-Israel Movement Prominent In Florida’s Gubernatorial Debate

Candidates for the governorship faced off in a debate that frequently raised the boycott and move of U.S. Embassy

In a debate by Florida’s gubernatorial candidates in the final days of the campaign, issues relating to the state of Israel were frequent and heated.

Republican Ron DeSantis, who has been endorsed by U.S. President Donald Trump, appeared eager to raise the issue of American support for the Jewish state and efforts to combat the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, while Democrat Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee and the first African-American nominee for the governorship, tried to make the case for supporting organizations that embrace BDS while remaining “pro-Israel.”

Due to Florida’s substantial Jewish population—about 5 percent of the state’s electorate, making it one of the largest Jewish communities in the U.S.— Israel and American policies toward the Jewish state frequently crop up in debates, particularly around election-time.

Yitzhak Brudny, a professor of Political Science at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, explained to The Media Line that because races in Florida tend to be very close, the Jewish vote often decides elections there.

The impact of the state’s Jewish vote becomes even more significant because Florida is considered a key “swing state” with a sizeable overall population, the commensurate weight it wields a factor in tipping presidential elections.

While a great many sources of punditry attribute the president’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem overwhelmingly in order to please Evangelical Christians, Brundy instead surmised that “One of the reasons Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem was because of the Jewish vote in Florida.”

During the debate, DeSantis took up a question about whether Trump is a good role model for children. The Republican candidate responded that Trump is indeed a good role model because he keeps his word, as he did by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in May.

“I was very passionate about moving our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” DeSantis said, adding that “Andrew [Gillum] was opposed to that.”

In other moments, the debate turned to the issue of BDS with DeSantis charging that Gillum promotes the boycott movement because of his support for Dream Defenders, a human rights organization that monitors police brutality toward minorities. The organization also supports BDS.

“One of their main planks and platform is to boycott and divest and sanction the state of Israel. Taking positions on Israel like that may be unifying if you’re running for mayor of the Gaza Strip,” DeSantis joked.

Gillum admitted his support for the organization, but claimed he did not back its stance on Israel. “My relationship with Israel is beyond reproach,” he added.

While such issues resonate with Jewish voters, many invested in the political process seek insight into reaction to Israel-centric issues by non-Jewish voters.

Brudny responded that when it comes to Israel, politicians tend to discount two-thirds of Floridians, “who don’t know what this is all about. Instead politicians care about capturing Jewish voters for whom the debate matters.”

Florida, Brudny added, “is not a state with a huge evangelical population; it is not the Bible Belt. If you are going to target evangelicals, you don’t talk about BDS—which is not such a widespread movement in America, unlike Europe—you focus on Jerusalem.”

Dr. Eric Lob, an assistant professor of politics and international relations at Florida International University, told The Media Line that “the farther north you go, the more Florida resembles the southern U.S.”

In the northern Florida, he added, “there is a concentration of conservative Christians, or those with an evangelical mindset.”

He explained that DeSantis’ statements about Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel may resonate not only with Jewish voters, but also Christian ones. Nevertheless, observers are saying his main goal might be trying to flip Jewish voters who tend to support the Democratic Party.

As far as Gillum is concerned, “he says he doesn’t support BDS… But at the same time, he has received financial support from pro-BDS groups. He has also spoken at events organized by these groups, even though he claims he doesn’t necessarily endorse that position.”

Lob explained that Gillum seems to be more aligned with left-leaning pro-Jewish organizations which are anti-BDS and favor a two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Gillum was also against the embassy move because he didn’t see it as constructive to promoting that solution,” Lob concluded. “The question is: Will conservative Jews sympathize with that viewpoint?”

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