AVENTURA, Fla. ― Ron DeSantis took his campaign for Florida governor to a Miami-area bagel shop on Tuesday to warn Jewish voters that his opponent, Andrew Gillum, would not be a friend to Israel if elected.
DeSantis, the GOP nominee, said Democrat Gillium has supported the “boycott, divest and sanction” movement to punish Israel, supported the Iran nuclear deal and opposed President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“Where does he want the embassy? Ramallah?” DeSantis asked facetiously, referring to the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank.
“Give me a break,” he added.
DeSantis told the 200 people crammed into Mo’s Bagels and Deli that he, in contrast, would punish companies that participate in the BDS movement by ending their ability to do business with Florida. “If you boycott Israel, the state of Florida will boycott you,” he said.
He added he would make Israel the destination of his first foreign trade mission as governor, and that he would include stops at the Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights and the West Bank. He called the communities “Judea and Samaria,” the phrase used by supporters of Israeli annexation of those areas.
“Florida is going to trade with all of them,” he said. “I don’t care what the State Department thinks,” he said.
As part of his bid to woo Jewish voters ― a key constituency in Florida ― DeSantis said Israel could also play a role in his plan to clean up the pollution that plagues Florida’s coastal waters.
“Improve our water quality, fight toxic algae, stem red tide ― what better place to go than to have partnerships between researchers here than Israel?” he said. “That’s where they have the most innovation.”
Much of DeSantis’ message, though, was his familiar refrain that Gillum is too liberal and too corrupt to be governor. The former GOP congressman from wealthy Jacksonville suburbs has provided few detailed policy proposals of his own. Instead, he has attacked Gillum’s calls to to expand Medicaid for some 800,000 Floridians and increase the corporate income tax to raise money for teacher salaries.
DeSantis on Tuesday jumped on newly released text messages from a lobbyist and longtime friend of Gillum whose business dealings with the city of Tallahassee have been the focus of a long-running FBI investigation. Those messages appear to indicate that an undercover FBI agent posing as a developer seeking to do business with Tallahassee purchased tickets for Gillum for the Broadway hit “Hamilton” in 2016.
“That is corruption in government and it is wrong,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis’ remarks were well-received by the crowd, most of whom were Republicans; many said they would be backing the GOP gubernatorial nominee regardless of who it was.
“I agree with everything he says,” said Barbara Berger, 78, a retiree who lives in nearby Miami Shores.
Not everyone at Mo’s, though, was particularly interested in DeSantis, or even in politics. “I’m just here trying to eat something,” said one elderly man who declined to give his name. “You can have that chair, if you want.”
DeSantis almost entirely based his bid for the Republican nomination on his endorsement from and support of Trump. He did much of his campaigning from Fox News studios near the Capitol in Washington, where he frequently appeared on programs to defend the president and attack Democrats on national topics.
In those months, he appeared to do little to hone his policy positions on Florida-specific issues, and has campaign has struggled in the weeks following the late August primary.
Recent public polls have shown Gillum with a modest lead.
The two squared off in their first debate on Sunday, and are scheduled to hold a second and final debate Wednesday.