The most interesting result in Tuesday’s primary elections in the US was the surprise victory in the Democratic gubernatorial primary of Andrew Gillum, the African-American progressive mayor of Tallahassee, who has been dubbed by some as Florida’s Barack Obama. Gillum, 39, came from the back of the five-candidate pack to upset front-runner Gwen Graham, a former congresswoman and the daughter of former Florida governor and senator Bob Graham. Gillum was boosted by an endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders, the leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, which is on the march in various parts of the country, and by hefty contributions from George Soros. He will run in November against Rep. Ron DeSantis, also 39, a Donald Trump loyalist who – with Trump’s endorsement and campaign contributions from Sheldon Adelson – won the Republican primary. If Gillum wins, he would be the first-ever black governor of Florida, and the first Democrat to live in the governor’s mansion in 20 years.
There are an estimated 622,000 Jews in Florida, making up – according to the Jewish Virtual Library – 3.2% of Florida’s population, and some 5% of the voting pool. A 2016 poll released by the left-wing nonprofit J Street following the presidential election found that 68% of Florida’s Jews voted for Hillary Clinton, compared to 28% for Trump.
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Though foreign policy is rarely, if ever, a prominent issue in American gubernatorial races, some of those Jewish voters will be taking a look at the candidates’ positions and statements on Israel. So far, Gillum, who was elected to the Tallahassee City Commission at 23 while still in college, has no Israel paper trail. Enter the words “Gillum” and “Israel” in Google, and very little of substance comes up. There are no public statements or speeches – something not at all unusual for a mayor. The words “Gillum” and “Palestinians” also do not produce any significant results. One of the only results that comes up is that in 2007, as a Tallahassee commissioner, he took part in a Tallahassee Sister City exchange trip to Ramat Hasharon.
The candidate’s web page has links to his positions on a number of issues, but the Middle East is not one of them. Rather, the issues – with the exception of Puerto Rico – are all of local, domestic concern: criminal justice reform, economy and jobs, education, environment, gun safety, healthcare and so on.
DESANTIS, HOWEVER, is a different story. As a congressman for the last six years, the former Navy attorney has a record on Israel, including being a strong proponent of the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and for US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. DeSantis, chairman of the US House Subcommittee on National Security, which is responsible for security at US embassies around the world, was in Israel in March – when many people were still skeptical whether Trump would move the embassy – and strongly urged the move. During that trip, he visited four potential embassy sites, and said at a press conference that he did not think the Jerusalem move would “be that big a deal” for America’s Arab allies. “We have this historic connection with the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem,” DeSantis said at a press conference at the time, noting that he and many of his congressional colleagues were very frustrated at the Palestinian denial of a Jewish connection to the city. “We have to be truthful and understand, this is one of the most ancient capital cities, and it is rightfully their [Israel’s] capital city,” he said. “There is no other country in the world where we do not locate our embassy in that country’s chosen capital city.” DeSantis came to Israel for the embassy move in May, and shortly thereafter called on Washington to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. Last month, with the future of Syria now at the forefront of the international agenda, DeSantis held a hearing on the matter in the House subcommittee he chairs. He titled the hearing, “A new horizon in US-Israel relations: From an American Embassy in Jerusalem to potential recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
The purpose of the hearing, according to an announcement put out by the subcommittee on national security, was “to discuss the potential for American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in furtherance of US national security interests.” Earlier this year, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel asked six gubernatorial candidates – including Gillum and DeSantis – to list three policy proposals that define their candidacy. Only DeSantis mentioned Israel. “We need to continue trade relationships with countries like Israel which are strong in the tech sector. When they want to bring their business and technology to this country, we need to ensure Florida is the place they do it,” he said.
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