After fielding questions for weeks from political reporters about his association with speakers and other officials who have made anti- Muslim, anti-immigrant and/or anti-black remarks, Republican candidate for governor Ron DeSantis went on offense on Monday, accusing reporters on the campaign trail of holding him to a different standard than they do for his Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum. DeSantis says Gillum needs to be held to account for his associations with groups that the GOP gubernatorial candidate labeled as anti-Semitic.
Speaking in Pinellas County after a campaign stop, DeSantis charged that the media has gone out of its way to “create a narrative” about him that is unfair. At the same time, he complained, reporters have refused to highlight Gillum’s associations with groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the civil rights group, Dream Defenders. Both groups have supported the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, which DeSantis says is the equivalent of being anti-Semitic.
“I don’t see the media going after Andrew Gillum,” he said in a video originally recorded by a Tampa Bay Times photographer that the DeSantis campaign later sent out to reporters.
“He gets his zone of protection,” DeSantis continued about his opponent. “It’s an attempt to create a narrative. If I have a crowd of 500 people, how the hell am I supposed to know who’s in the crowd?”
Gillum told the Miami Herald last week that he’s always been opposed to the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel.
DeSantis noted how Gillum welcomed members of CAIR to Tallahassee in 2016, when members of the group came to the Capitol to oppose legislation that prohibited state agencies or local governments from contracting with businesses that were boycotting Israel. It passed later that session.
The movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel is a global effort that began in the mid-2000s. It aims to pressure the Israel government regarding its treatment of Palestinians. It picked up momentum over the years on various college campuses, prompting legislatures in at least 25 states to enact legislation that punishes companies that participate in boycotts against Israel.
Supporters of the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel say that their efforts have nothing to do with being anti-Semitic.
DeSantis also noted on Monday that CAIR was accused in 2007 of being an “unindicted co-conspirator” with the Holy Land Foundation – a charity organization that was convicted of funding Islamic militant groups in 2008. A federal judge later denied CAIR’s request to be removed from the list of “co-conspirators, which included 245 other groups and organizations. The government has never charged the group with a crime.
A spokesman for CAIR declined to comment when asked about DeSantis’ remarks on Monday.
A spokeswoman for the Dream Defenders said that it was “rich” that DeSantis was picking “on a group of young, working Floridians who want to make the state be better.”
“Ron DeSantis is trying to distract Floridians from the fact that he is a Trump sycophant that doesn’t have a plan to improve anything for working people in this state and has a congressional track record of blocking things that do,” Nailah Summers told the Florida Phoenix in an email Monday night.
“Aside from that, we are anti-racist,” she continued. “We fight racism in all its forms, including anti-semitism. We work with orgs like Jewish Voice for Peace and If not Now, both young Jewish-led organizations that fight anti-Semitism and fight against the violence of the occupation. So this coming from a man who has spoken at far-right conferences with the likes of Milo Yiannopoulis, Steve Bannon is fresh. DeSantis doesn’t care about racism and anti-semitism. He’s built a career out of being closely tied to these things.”
A spokesman for Gillum’s campaign also said last week that Gillum’s association with organizations that back the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel shouldn’t be interpreted as support for those positions.
Since winning the Republican nomination for governor last month, DeSantis has been dogged by media reports about his associations with controversial figures.
The Washington Post reported earlier this month that DeSantis had spoken at several conferences organized by right-wing activist David Horowitz, who has made controversial statements about slavery and Islam.
POLITICO Florida followed up last week with a story regarding a GOP activist who donated more than $20,000 to DeSantis had recently called former President Barack Obama a “F— MUSLIM N—- on Twitter, along with other inflammatory remarks.