With six weeks left before the gubernatorial election, Florida’s major candidates and their parties have been accusing each other of anti-Semitism.
Republican Ron DeSantis, a former congressman from Northeast Florida, and Democrat Andrew Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor, are campaigning in a state that more than 650,000 Jews call home.
At a campaign stop at JAXPORT Wednesday, DeSantis decried Gillum’s support for the Dream Defenders, a college student-led progressive advocacy group.
“They say Israel’s an apartheid state and… a genocidal state,” DeSantis said. He later continued, “I’ve seen a lot of folks involved with his campaign who are very anti-Israel. I think when you support boycotts of Israel, to me, that’s anti-Semitic.”
DeSantis’ remarks about the Dream Defenders were part of his response to a question about recent reports that he spoke at conferences that also have featured far-right provocateurs like Stephen K. Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos. The Washington Post reported DeSantis spoke four times at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s Restoration Weekend conferences organized by a conservative activist who has said the country’s “only serious race war” is against whites.
In Jacksonville on Wednesday, DeSantis didn’t directly address his speeches at the conferences, but said the news media has a “double standard” when covering Gillum’s associations.
“It’s just ridiculous. They’re trying to do this Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, trying to find anything anyone’s ever done, and superimpose it on me, and that’s wrong. I think it’s a McCarthy-ite tactic,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Florida Democratic Party on Thursday continued to hammer DeSantis over the speeches.
An emailed statement from former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a former gubernatorial candidate, said, "It's unacceptable and shameful for any major party candidate to be so closely affiliated with anti-Semites. The Jewish community should know: Ron DeSantis is no friend of ours when he's got friends like these. DeSantis must immediately condemn these individuals and apologize to the Jewish community for associating with such well-known anti-Semites."
DeSantis has closely aligned himself with President Donald Trump. Wednesday DeSantis said that relationship will help get more funding for projects like deepening the St. Johns River to make way for heavier and larger ships.
“And of course it does help that as governor I’ll have a good relationship with the White House, so I’ll be able to leverage federal help. Andrew says Donald Trump should be impeached. Well, OK, I don’t know for what, but if that’s your position, then how the heck are you supposed to work with him to deliver for Florida?” he said at JAXPORT.
Gillum has criticized many of Trump’s policies, including the practice of separating migrant children from their parents at the border.
DeSantis also waved off a recent Quinnipiac poll that shows Gillum 9 points ahead, pointing out that most polls failed to predict either his or Gillum’s wins in the primaries.
The general election is Nov. 6. Tuesday, Oct. 9, is the deadline to register to vote. Find out more at wjct.org/elections.
Florida Politics reporter A.G. Gancarski provided WJCT News with the audio of DeSantis’ press conference.