Congress candidate Omari Hardy defends his stance on Israel. Jewish Democrats urge his defeat.

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Congressional candidate Omari Hardy is reiterating his positions on two major issues involving U.S. policy toward Israel, putting him at odds with Jewish leaders in the Democratic Party and fueling a controversy he started a week ago.

The Florida Democratic Party Jewish Caucus said it “opposes the election of Omari Hardy because of his positions on these fundamental issues.”

And U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Broward/Miami-Dade County Democrat and the first Jewish woman from Florida elected to the U.S. House repudiated Hardy’s positions, though she didn’t mention him by name.

Omari is one of 11 candidates in the Nov. 2 special Democratic primary in the Broward-Palm Beach County 20th Congressional District. Most voters in the district are Black, but the district includes a sizeable Jewish population, including at the Kings Point condominium community in Tamarac.

The issues in question are the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement aimed at pressuring Israel to change the way it treats Palestinians. Hardy supports BDS, which is an anathema to many in the Jewish community.

Hardy also said he would have voted against $1 billion of supplemental U.S. assistance to Israel for its iron dome missile defense system, something supported by almost all Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House. Opposition to iron dome funding came largely from progressive Democrats. In its endorsement last week of Hardy, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida said he “would be that strong voice [in Congress] to amplify the collective progressive voice for the people.”

On Wednesday, at the beginning of a candidate forum sponsored by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, Wasserman Schultz rejected Hardy’s positions on BDS and the extra iron dome funding adding that the next Florida member of Congress “must be unwavering” in support for Israel.

Wasserman Schultz said “95%” of Democrats oppose BDS. “Let me be clear, Democrats are united behind Israel.”

At the end of the same forum, Hardy used his closing remarks at the candidate forum to defend his positions.

“As an idealist I have to believe there is nothing incompatible about supporting Israel’s right to exist and Israel’s right to defend itself and also supporting the inalienable right of the Palestinians, which are grounded not just in humanity, but also international law.

“As a Black man, I have asked people who are not of color to stand with me and learn that my life matters,” Hardy said.

That means, he added, that he “cannot rail against a discriminatory criminal justice system in this country” and ignore detention and military prosecutions of Palestinian children.

“I cannot decry gentrification on Sistrunk [Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale] and keep my mouth closed about settlements. I can’t talk about [the water crisis in] Flint, Michigan, and keep my mouth closed about the fact that many Palestinians don’t have access to clean water,” Hardy said.

He said he supports the latest 10-year memorandum of understanding, which provides $3.8 billion a year in military aid to Israel — but only if conditions are attached to change Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.

His positions put him at odds with the other candidates in the race. Nine of 11 candidates participated in the forum.

The other eight said they do not support restrictions on U.S. aid to Israel. The eight also said they support the $1 billion in extra iron dome funding. The other eight also said they did not support BDS, including candidate Elvin Dowling, who responded “hell no.”

After the forum ended, a different group of Jewish Democrats issued a statement condemning Hardy’s positions and said he should not be chosen to fill the vacancy created by the April 6 death of longtime Congressman Alcee Hastings. The 20th district is so Democratic that the primary winner is virtually guaranteed to win the Jan. 11 general election. Besides Hardy, currently a state representative, five other current and former elected officials are seeking their party’s nomination.

“State Representative Omari Hardy does not follow in the footsteps of the late Alcee Hastings when he supports BDS and opposes Iron Dome. One of the hallmarks of Congressman Hastings’s long career was his collaborative partnership with Florida’s Jews in supporting the survival of the State of Israel,” said the statement.

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It was signed by Rabbi Mark Winer, president of the Florida Democratic Party Jewish Caucus; former state Rep. Rick Stark, president of the Broward Democratic Party Jewish Caucus, and Palm Beach Gardens Mayor Rachelle Litt, president of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party Jewish Caucus.

Winer, Stark and Litt said iron dome is a “purely defensive system to prevent the bombardment of Israeli civilians by Hamas rockets.”

Donna Nevel, who is part of the Jewish Voice for Peace chapter in South Florida, said by email Thursday that the statement from the Democratic Party Jewish Caucus “is appalling.”

She said it “does not accurately reflect the positions of increasing numbers of Jews,” many of whom support BDS, which she said is “a call to hold Israel, which is an occupying power, accountable for its massive violations of human rights and international law.”

On Sept. 1, Hardy said during an online candidate forum sponsored by the Broward caucus that he opposed BDS. On Oct. 13, he said that after more research and thinking about the issue he had changed his mind.

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