(September 27, 2018 / JNS) Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate running for governor of Florida, has associated with the radical left-wing group Dream Defenders, whose founder, Phillip Agnew, has ties to Ahmad Abuznaid, a supporter of the U.S.-designated terrorist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
This development comes amid Gillum’s opponent, Rep. Ron DeSantis, attacking the Democrat in a TV campaign ad for having “anti-Semites around him,” such as welcoming the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) during the Florida Muslim Capitol Day in 2016, an annual gathering of approximately 200 statewide Muslim leaders and activists.
Gillum promptly responded to DeSantis’s accusation by labeling the congressman as “unstable.”
In September 2014, Gillum posted a picture of himself and Agnew, along with the caption, “Could not be prouder of Phillip Agnew and [Miami City Commission Chairman] Keon Hardemon.”
Four years beforehand, Gillum wished Abuznaid, a co-founder of Dream Defenders, a happy birthday on Facebook.
During a Democratic gubernatorial primary forum, Gillum gave a shout-out to Dream Defenders, citing their demonstration at the Florida State Capitol building in July 2013 in response to the acquittal of neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin.
“There are two of us here on this stage from Tallahassee, and I was proud to be the only one. When you all slept in for 30 days on the cold, hard marble floors of the state capitol, I was pleased and proud to sneak food into you every night so you could eat,” said Gillum. “To stand up for you and to stand beside you because you all have been standing in the gap on behalf of marginalized communities, shaking up the political process, having politicians across this state run scared because they are afraid of your power.”
“And I hope you keep at it, good luck,” he added.
Race for key battleground state heats up
The accusations against the Gillum come as the race for governor of the key battleground state heats up as the November elections near. According to the latest RealClearPolitics average, Gillum has a 4.5 percentage point lead over DeSantis in a state with a high percentage of Jewish residents.
The campaign has also drawn national attention. Gillum has been the favorite of progressive wing of the Democratic Party backed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, while DeSantis, a three-term congressman and Iraq War veteran, has been a fervent supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has strongly backed the president’s pro-Israel record.
However, the DeSantis campaign has made headlines as well. The candidate has been accused of accepting $20,000 from a pro-Israel Republican donor who tweeted that President Obama was a “MUSLIM n*gger.” Although the campaign denounced the rhetoric, it returned all but $2,000 of the contribution.
Meanwhile, controversial left-wing megadonor George Soros, who has funded anti-Israel groups such as Breaking the Silence , B’Tselem, Yesh Din and al-Haq, has contributed $1.2 million to Gillum’s PAC.
The Dream Defenders, founded in 2012 and whose members volunteered and fundraised for Gillum’s primary campaign, advocates for the anti-Israel narrative, including the BDS movement, exemplifying the trend of black anti-Semitism in the United States.
The organization has labeled Israel as a “continued settler colonial project” whose treatment of the Palestinians is similar to an “apartheid” nation. Without acknowledging Hamas frequently launching rockets from schools and other civilian centers from Gaza into Israel, while using women and children as human shields, Dream Defenders has accused Israel of developing “its latest military weaponry by attacking the civilian population of Gaza.”
Agnew, whose name is now Umi Selah, has participated in multiple trips to the disputed territories over the past few years, led by Abuznaid, who claimed that these delegations are to “build real relationships with those on the ground leading the fight for liberation.”
During a January 2015 trip, Dream Defenders met with Omar Barghouti, founder of the BDS movement, and Diana Buttu, who served in the Palestine Liberation Organization during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s, when the PLO perpetrated attacks against Israelis on buses, and in restaurants and other public places. The delegation also met with artist Ayed Arafah in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, which is recognized as a PFLP camp.
“Andrew Gillum’s association with the Dream Defenders, a group that views Israel as an apartheid state and glorifies the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is deeply disturbing,” Stephen Lawson, communications director for Ron DeSantis, told JNS. “Mayor Gillum has said himself that he ‘could not be prouder’ of Phillip Agnew, the co-founder of Dream Defenders.”
“Ron DeSantis will continue to fight for Israel and stand up to anti-Semites,” said Lawson. “Apparently, Andrew Gillum will not.”
However, a Gillum campaign spokesman accused the DeSantis campaign of desperation in its latest attacks.
“There Ron DeSantis goes again, lying to voters in a desperate attempt to save his campaign,” a campaign spokesperson told JNS. “Ron DeSantis is running from his record of voting to take away pre-existing condition protections for Floridians and more devastating revelations about his campaign’s troubling ties to white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
“Fortunately, the people of Florida are rejecting the Trump-DeSantis brand of politics and are rallying behind Mayor Gillum’s vision of a state,” continued the spokesperson, “where health care is affordable, education is funded, and wages are rising.”
Scorn and pushback from pro-Israel groups
This latest development surrounding Gillum has earned scorn and push back from some pro-Israel groups and individual members of the American Jewish community.
The Middle East Forum’s Oren Litwin told JNS that Gillum’s connection to the Dream Defenders cannot be ignored.
“The Dream Defenders openly and repeatedly supports the murderous Leninist terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, going so far as to call them ‘heroes’ in [its] Blacked Out History curriculum. [Its] commitment to the boycott of Israel is so deep that it is willing to fracture the Black Lives Matter movement over it and alienate Jewish supporters,” he said. “It is astounding that Mayor Gillum would associate with such an organization; he needs to speak out against the normalization of hatred under cover of civil-rights activism and reject the support of Dream Defenders.”
Former Democratic strategist Peter Waldheim voiced concern with Gillum and the far-left trend in his party. “Andrew Gillum isn’t the kind of candidate I would support,” he told JNS. “I have long been worried about the growth of extreme-left influences in the Democratic Party.”
“Right now, there’s no question that the leftist-most wing of the Democratic Party has the energy on its side,” he added. “But there’s also no question that the majority of Democrats don’t hold those political preferences themselves.”
However, electoral analyst Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of “Inside Elections,” told JNS that Gillum could win despite his labels.
“I think Gillum can win because he’s a Democrat in a competitive state in a Democratic-leaning year,” said Gonzales. “He might win in spite of his ideology, not because of it.”
Neil Strauss, the digital director for the Republican Jewish Coalition, told JNS that Gillum is enabling hate through his support of Dream Defenders.
“The people of Florida deserve better than the values that the Dream Defenders embrace,” Strauss said. “Anyone who affiliates with such a hateful group is enabling hate.”
Ron Klein, chairman of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, told JNS that despite the Dream Defenders’ anti-Israel activism, Gillum supports the Jewish state.
“I’ve personally known Andrew Gillum for many years, and we have talked at length about his support for Israel and the local interests of the Jewish community. He understands the importance of Israel, and the relationship between the Jewish state and the Sunshine State,” he said. “One of the things that he is interested is to build more business opportunities between our communities.”
Klein continued, saying “as far as the Dream Defenders, specifically, [he] was interested in their work on criminal-justice reform, which is a very important issue, and disagrees with them when it comes to Israel.”