Andrew Gillum reaffirmed his commitment to South Florida's Jewish community as he continues to face attacks questioning his support for Israel.
Standing onstage in the synagogue at the Century Pines Jewish Center, the Democratic nominee for governor discussed on Sunday his personal experiences to show that he has a strong bond with Israel and Jewish people. Any claim otherwise is misinformation, he said.
"There are some who would like to misconstrue what my relationship is with the Jewish community but they don't know the stories that I can tell about that relationship," said Gillum who campaigned in Pembroke Pines alongside prominent Jewish politicians Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Gillum has been accused as anti-Israel by GOP gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis. Republicans have sighted a critical comment that Gillum's running mate Chris King made while in college about Jewish members of Harvard's student newspaper. King has apologized for the comment.
But on Sunday, Gillum said he has nothing to prove. Donning a black yarmulke, the Tallahassee mayor said he's been to Israel three times and that he doesn't need to be Jewish to appreciate the religion.
He even told a story about how a Jewish family was in part responsible for his birth. He said his grandfather used to be a chauffeur for a Chicago family and would drive its Cadillac to Miami Beach for the winter. After the family patriarch died and left money for the Gillums, the grandfather stayed in the Miami area where he opened an ice cream truck. It eventually led to the first meeting between the candidate's father and mother.
"I might not be here today" if it weren't for that Jewish family, Gillum said.
Although foreign relations with Israel usually aren't a priority for a Florida governor, both candidates are promoting strong pro-Israel positions. With a population of about 630,000 people, Florida's Jewish constituency—much of which is in South Florida—will be a critical voting block during the Nov. 6 election.
DeSantis has touted his unwavering support for Israel and has said he urged President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the country's capital. Still, he has faced questions for attending events featuring far-right speakers who have been accused of anti-Semitism and racism.
Wasserman Schultz—whose district includes the Pembroke Pines Jewish center—denounced such forms of bigotry. And she called Republicans' comments about Gillum "revolting."
"It is our responsibility as Jews to stand up and push back on the criticism that is unwarranted and that we know we shoulder and have shouldered as a people for thousands of years," she said.
As attendees of the event began streaming out of the Jewish center after the event, they expressed confidence in Gillum's stance on Israel. Some—like Sheldon Privin—called the claims against him "bologne."
For Paula Ginsberg, however, King's comment was initially a concern. But after "doing a lot of homework" and hearing from Gillum's campaign about it, she now feels at ease.
"A lot of Gillum's campaign staff have reached out to me personally to respond to how that came about," she said. "I was comfortable with their response."