This year’s primary season has been difficult for so-called establishment Democrats, with some facing a challenge from the party’s progressive wing. At the same time, several of these progressive candidates have questioned the party’s support for Israel, with some even stating outright anti-Israel positions. In Florida, three-term Democratic State Rep. Jared Moskowitz is facing a primary challenge over his support for legislation targeting the anti-Israel BDS movement.
Imtiaz Mohammad—a publisher of The Asian Times, a monthly magazine focused on South Asians living in the United States—is running as a challenger to Moskowitz for the Aug. 28 Democratic primary because of the state legislator’s sponsorship of an anti-BDS bill that became law in 2016, banning Florida from giving state funds to companies that support the BDS movement. Mohammad said that, if elected, he would introduce a bill to replace the current law.
“We have to defend our constitution,” Mohammad told JNS when asked if he would propose such a measure. “We must act and support our constitutional rights.”
Much of the criticism of the anti-BDS laws being passed by states has been about limiting free speech. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the anti-BDS bills “violate the First Amendment” by “unconstitutionally penalizing Americans who participate in political boycotts of companies doing business in Israel and its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
However, Moskowitz dismissed such claims, telling JNS that any measures put forward to replace the anti-BDS law “would be dead on arrival.”
“That bill wouldn’t get heard by the speaker; it wouldn’t get heard by the senate president,” he said. “It wouldn’t get a single hearing in either chamber.”
“It’s a law of the state of Florida now,” stated Moskowitz.
Florida is one of 25 states that have passed anti-BDS measures. The Florida law requires “the State Board of Administration to identify all companies that are boycotting Israel or are engaged in a boycott of Israel in which the public fund owns direct or indirect holdings by a specified date” and prohibits “a state agency or local governmental entity from contracting for goods and services that exceed a specified amount if the company” participates in BDS. It also mandates the state pension system to administer a list of those pro-BDS companies.
Advocates of the anti-BDS measures contend that the measures are constitutional, per the anti-boycott provisions of the 1977 Export Administration Act. Additionally, many mainstream Jewish and pro-Israel groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, support federal and state legislation targeting the BDS movement.
“It’s not just a federal issue; it’s a state issue. The reason is we have a role to play here,” said Moskowitz. “At the end of the day, we don’t want foreign entities, we don’t want foreign nations, putting pressure on U.S. companies to have to divest and hurt American jobs on what countries they should and should not do business with.”
“We’ve done this before,” continued Moskowitz. “We did this with the Iranian Divestment Act … we did this with Darfur, this is not something new. … These were legislative actions in which we said, ‘If you do business with Iran, if you do business with Darfur, the State of Florida can decide that we will not invest taxpayer dollars … because we don’t want to sponsor actions that support Darfur or support Iran.’ ”
“Here, we said, ‘If you are bullied into boycotting Israel for no other reason—no valid reason other than you’re bullied into doing so—we can decide not to take our taxpayer money and invest in pensions or programs with your corporation.’ ”
Ties with anti-Israel candidates
Mohammad also has ties with national anti-Israel candidates who have challenged the Democratic Party’s long-time support for the Jewish state.
He has been linked to Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), known for associating with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Ellison is running for Minnesota State Attorney General.
That congressional seat is expected to be replaced by Israel critic Ilhan Omar, who has said that the Jewish state is an “apartheid regime” that has “hypnotized the world.”
Mohammad is further linked to Emgage USA, a nonprofit group with a stated mission is to “educate, engage and empower Muslim American communities through educational events, voter initiatives, and leadership development for the purpose of creating a community of equitable, knowledgeable, and motivated citizens.”
Formerly called EmergeUSA, Emgage USA was co-founded by Florida lawyer Khurrim Wahid, previously with the anti-Israel Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). EmergeUSA raised campaign funds for Ellison, a friend of CAIR, whose New York chapter’s annual gala featured the Minnesota congressman as its keynote speaker in February.
Notably, Emgage’s Michigan chapter is led by Nada Al-Hanooti, who was field coordinator for Rashida Tlaib’s Michigan House campaign in 2012.
Tlaib, who is expected to represent Michigan’s 13th Congressional District as the first Muslim American woman in Congress, has voiced support for BDS and cutting U.S. assistance to Israel. J Street withdrew its endorsement of Tlaib on Friday after she refused to publicly endorse a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians.
When asked by JNS if he supports Israel and a two-state solution, Mohammad sidestepped the questions and responded, “I believe in peace, how ever [sic] we can enforce peace with equality and justice for all.”
Moskowitz replied that it was “a non-answer answer.”
“I support Israel,” said Moskowitz. “I also support a two-state solution.”
He added, “that’s the job of our federal government, not a Florida state issue.”