False accusations of anti-Semitism are always shameful. They wrongly smear people and groups for actions and behavior they are not guilty of, often with destructive consequences; they also make a mockery of, and trivialize, real acts of anti-Semitism. In recent weeks, Florida’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis has consistently tried to tar his Democratic opponent, Mayor Andrew Gillum, by associating him with a social justice organization, Dream Defenders, which, he claims, is anti-Semitic. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Dream Defenders was created after the killing of Trayvon Martin to make sure that all Floridians have the right to live in dignity and be safe in their own communities. Dream Defender members of all ages and backgrounds have come together with groups and communities across the state to fight for the rights and well-being of all Floridians.
Living in South Florida, I have witnessed how central the Dream Defenders are to social justice organizing. They are in the forefront of calling for public education and health care systems that serve all; economic justice; an end to racial violence and anti-Black racism; and a state that prioritizes the needs of people over corporate interests. They have an impressive track record and reputation as an organization that is rooted in a deep commitment to fighting for what is just.
What are these false accusations of anti-Semitism really about? They have nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Rather, they serve to mask DeSantis’ racist platform and his attempt to shut down and discredit those, like the Dream Defenders and Andrew Gillum, who challenge his racism.
One example: The DeSantis campaign is using the Freedom Papers, a powerful call to justice put forth by the Dream Defenders, to attack Mayor Gillum. Grass-roots groups and organizations across the state have endorsed these papers. They read in part: “We are demanding that our elected representatives put our safety before corporate profits. The Freedom Papers is our vision for a Florida that is able to serve the everyday needs of its people. Our state spends $55,000 a year to jail our children, and only $7,000 a year to educate them.” We must be clear that such values and priorities are what Ron DeSantis opposes.
We must also be clear that his malicious and false accusations of anti-Semitism are a blatant attack on the Dream Defenders’ human rights agenda, which includes its principled support for the rights of the Palestinian people. Its support for justice in Palestine is consistent with its support for all those who are fighting for their dignity and civil and human rights.
There is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about these positions on Palestine and Israel, and they reflect a global movement in support of Palestinian rights. I am a member of two Jewish organizations that are part of this growing movement to hold Israel accountable to basic principles of international law and human rights. I am only one of hundreds of thousands of Jews who share this perspective.
The DeSantis accusations of anti-Semitism maliciously hurled at the Dream Defenders are an attempt to undermine its work. Last week’s horrific murders of two African Americans, Maurice Stallard and Vicky Jones, in Louisville and the deadly attack on eleven Jews who were praying at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, were a result of white supremacy and anti-Semitism—and the list goes on. False accusations of anti-Semitism are especially unconscionable at this moment, and we need to strongly oppose the racist agenda behind it.
What the Dream Defenders and Andrew Gillum share is a fundamental commitment to treating every Floridian with dignity. This is what Ron DeSantis’s underlying problem with them really is. As politicians and their backers too often put the needs of the few above the needs of our communities, we can gain hope from an organization like the Dream Defenders that puts forth a vision of, and works toward, a society that well serves all Floridians:
We can live in a state -- in a country -- where no child is left alone, in the cold, or behind bars, where children feel free and safe when they walk to the store, play in the park, or are on their way to school in the morning. We can live in a state where parents and teachers are given everything they need to support the raising of our children. We don’t have to let another parent lose their child to a bullet, a badge or a dollar sign. This Florida is possible, but only with a drastic shift in our politician’s priorities -- one that values the needs of everyday people, rather than fattening the wallets of a few.
What could be a better call than that for all of us. Thank you, Dream Defenders.
Donna Nevel, a community psychologist and educator, is co-director of PARCEO, a resource and education center. She is a long-time organizer for justice and lives in Miami, Florida.