Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Sun Sentinel.
Omari Hardy, a leading candidate in the special congressional primary in South Florida, outlined two highly controversial positions on Wednesday, both related to Israel, potentially stepping on a political landmine.
Hardy said he supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement aimed at pressuring Israel to change its policies toward the Palestinians. BDS is strongly opposed by almost the entire American Jewish community, where there is widespread concern about the issue.
Hardy, however, likened BDS to the nonviolent protests against racial segregation in the 1950s American South and the 1980s divestment campaign aimed at accelerating the end of apartheid in South Africa.
The position represents a reversal for Hardy who on Sept. 1 — in an online candidate forum sponsored by the Broward Democratic Party Jewish Caucus — said he opposed BDS. On Wednesday he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that after more research and thinking about the issue he changed his mind.
Hardy also said he would have voted against $1 billion in supplemental U.S. funding for Israel’s iron dome missile defense system. The funding overwhelmingly passed the House last month, with support from Democrats and Republicans. But opposition from a handful of progressive lawmakers exacerbated a rift between them and Jewish Democrats.
The Nov. 2 Democratic primary is less than three weeks away. The district is so Democratic that the winner of the primary is all-but-guaranteed to be the next member of Congress from Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Hardy is running as a progressive Democrat in a primary with several more moderate-centrist Democrats. Nationally, progressive Democrats have been more supportive of BDS and more opposed to iron dome funding than the majority of the party’s leaders and lawmakers.
Hardy’s current view on BDS and his position on iron dome funding were first reported by Jewish Insider. He amplified on his views in a telephone interview with the Sun Sentinel.
The primary contest features six top-tier candidates, including Hardy, plus five lesser-known hopefuls. They’re seeking the Democratic nomination to fill the vacancy left by the April 6 death of U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings.
The 20th Congressional District takes in most of the African American and Caribbean American communities in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Most of the district’s voters are Black, as are all the candidates.
But Rabbi Mark L. Winer, a former president of the National Council of Synagogues and president of the Florida Democratic Party Jewish Caucus, said the district also has a “significant minority” of Jewish voters.
The Tamarac part of the district includes the Kings Point condominium community, which is home to a large number of Jewish residents. Kings Point is so big it is home to three voting precincts. Out of 150 Broward voting precincts in the 20th District, voter registration records show one of the three Kings Point precincts is the sixth largest.
Demographic and political studies have consistently found that Jewish voters are far more likely than average to be registered to vote. And Jewish voters vote at higher rates than the overall electorate.
During the Sept. 1 candidate forum with the Jewish Democratic group, all the candidates said they opposed BDS.
On Wednesday, Hardy said, “I frankly had not given much thought to it” and has since concluded more recently that “my position on BDS was inconsistent with my other values. I had to change my mind … I can admit I was wrong when I said I opposed BDS”
Hardy said that he doesn’t regard his position as anti-Israel or antisemitic. “When a government violates the rights of a people, we have reason to speak up and speak out and to use nonviolent tactics to encourage that government to change its behavior. My position on these issues is not about Israel. It’s about the broader principles as they apply to this case.”
“The first question is, are the Palestinians’ human rights being violated, yes or no? The answer is clearly yes. If we know that the Palestinians’ human rights are being violated, then what should we do about that? Violence is not the answer, but not violent protest and boycott and so on is the answer. It was the answer in Montgomery, Ala., when Martin Luther King and other faith leaders in the Black community put together a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. It was the answer in South Africa when leaders there encouraged the world to boycott South Africa until apartheid ended, and I think it is the answer any place, anywhere peoples’ human rights are being violated, including in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza,” Hardy said.
Supporters of Israel view BDS as questioning and undermining the very legitimacy of the country and its people.
Even though many American Jews don’t wholeheartedly support all the policies of the Israeli government, Winer said, there is a consensus about BDS. “On the whole, Jews are very much opposed to BDS because we see it as inimical to a two-state solution,” Winer said.
Iron dome is a missile-defense system, created to stop missiles aimed at Israel from making it to their targets. “Iron dome is a slam dunk. It’s only defensive. There’s nothing offensive in terms of its effect. It’s only to shield Israel against the onslaught of rockets that are fired upon civilian areas,” Winer said.
Hardy said he would have been a “flat no” on the $1 billion in supplemental spending for iron dome.
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Broward-Palm Beach County Democrat and senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed outrage in a fiery speech during the debate.
“I cannot allow one of my colleagues to stand on floor of the House of Representatives and label Jewish democratic state of Israel an apartheid state. I reject it. Today this caucus, this body, the House of Representatives will overwhelmingly stand with our ally, the state of Israel, in replenishing this defensive system. If you believe in human rights and believe in saving lives, Israeli lives and Palestinian lives, I say to my colleague who just besmirched our ally then you will support his legislation … to falsely characterize the state of Israel is consistent with those, let’s be clear, it’s consistent with those who advocate for the dismantling of the one Jewish state in the world. And when there is no place on the map for one Jewish state, that’s antisemitism, and I reject that.”
Hardy said he would, conditionally, support $3.8 billion in annual military aid to Israel, which includes $500 million in iron dome funding — but only if conditions are attached. “I believe we should place strings on that money so that we ensure that Israel doesn’t have policies in place that violate the Palestinians’ rights.”
Hastings, who served from 1993 until he died in April, was a pioneering civil rights leader and outspoken supporter of Israel, Winer said. “Anybody who is a BDS supporter, who would have voted against the iron dome, they’re not in the tradition of Alcee Hastings. He would not have done that,” Winer said.
Hardy said he didn’t know how his views would impact the election. He said Wednesday he had received many texts questioning his position after Jewish Insider published its article and people he’d spoken with had received many texts and calls about what he said.
“It’s not antisemitic to care about human rights. It’s not antisemitic to make sure I consistently apply my progressive values in every case. People who are being oppressed have a right to protest, to boycott,” Hardy said. “Israel has a right to exist. Its leaders do not have a right to implement policies that violate the rights of the Palestinians. Israel’s existence does not depend on the continued oppression of the Palestinian people. That’s what everybody needs to understand.”
Rick Stark, a former state representative and president of the Broward Jewish Democratic Caucus, said he was in the ninth grade during the 1967 war and has a longer perspective on Israel’s vulnerability than many younger progressives, who “have a shorter horizon.” Stark said he was disappointed in Hardy’s position.
The Power Lunch – Florida Politics Newsletter
A lunch-hour look at what’s trending in Florida politics.
Stark, whose mother lives in the district, said the candidate’s views would likely cost Hardy votes, but the extent of the impact is hard to gauge. Though early voting doesn’t begin until Oct. 23, some people already have voted by mail.
Mitch Ceasar, former chairman of the Broward Democratic Party, along with many others involved in politics, said the special primary election, with nothing else on the ballot, will have a low turnout. With many candidates splitting the vote, even a relatively small sliver of voters could determine the outcome.
“The probability is that Kings Point will have a disproportionately higher turnout than the rest of the district,” Ceasar said. And the Jewish voters there “will presumably care a lot more about that issue than the rest of the district. For a narrow few, it may be the only issue they care about.”