When two women rushed the stage during Gov. Ron DeSantis’ speech at the NHGOP’s Amos Tuck Dinner Friday evening shouting “Jews Against DeSantis,” the reaction in the crowd was mostly confusion. Who were these people, and why would Jews have a problem with the Florida governor?
The answer from one of the protesters may be even more confusing.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that he has tried to brand himself as the most pro-Israel governor in America,” Lian Lucansky told NHJournal.
Lucansky is a member of the Boston chapter of IfNotNow, the group behind the protest. She was joined by fellow INN activist Ari Jahiel, also of Boston. INN is part of a growing movement of Jewish progressives who decry Israel as an “apartheid state” and the Israeli government as oppressors. As a result, they argue, supporting Israel is supporting colonialism, white supremacy, and other forces that are “anti-Jewish.”
Thus the protest banner, “Ron DeSantis: Loves Israel, Hates Jews.”
IfNotNow is perhaps best known for banning displays of the Israeli flag or the Star of David on gay pride flags at the 2019 DC Dyke March. As reported by the Jerusalem Post, “the march banned the flags of countries with ‘specific oppressive tendencies.’ The flags of Israel and the United States were the only two mentioned specifically in the ban. There was no such ban on Palestinian flags.”
Lucansky, who shouted “Jews against DeSantis” as she was pushed from the podium Friday night, said the DeSantis event was targeted based on the assumption that he will likely enter the Republican presidential race soon. She acknowledged many other candidates for public office — including Democrats — share his views.
“I think a lot of the pro-Israel stances that our U.S. government has put a lot of people in Israel/Palestine in danger,” Lucansky said. “Statements like those Ron DeSantis has made in the past, that the West Bank is not ‘occupied territory’ but it’s ‘disputed territory’… it’s a complicated issue.”
“Just because you care about Jews in the Holy Land doesn’t mean that you care about Jewish safety, if that makes sense,” she added.
Asked if she believes DeSantis is antisemitic, Lucansky said, “Yes.”
DeSantis, 44, has been very open about his support for the nation of Israel.
“Florida is the most Israel-friendly state in the country, and we will not stand for discrimination against the Israeli people of any kind,” DeSantis said during a bipartisan 2019 event. “By calling for increased security for our Jewish Day Schools, punishing companies that participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and taking my first trade mission to Israel, the Israeli people can be assured that they have no greater friend than Florida.”
And while organizations like IfNotNow support the BDS movement as a legitimate tool for protesting Israel’s policy regarding Palestinians, DeSantis does not.
“BDS is nothing more than a cloak for anti-semitism, and as long as I’m governor, BDS will be DOA,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis also told the Republican Jewish Coalition last November, “We won the highest share of the Jewish vote for any Republican candidate in Florida history.”
When Lucansky and Jahiel rushed the stage Friday, DeSantis shrugged off the incident with a joke. (“Gotta have a little spice in the speech, right?”) and a criticism. “Why would you want to pay for the ticket to get in just to do that? I don’t know, but different strokes for different folks,” he said.
Asked about DeSantis’ comment, Lucansky replied, “I laughed when I heard him say that.”
She also repeatedly claimed DeSantis “empowers white supremacists,” some of whom have shown up in the crowd at DeSantis events. “Just because someone claims to support the Jewish community, they can turn around and have the ‘Proud Boys’ at their event and welcome them with open arms,” Lucansky said.
When asked for any evidence that DeSantis has “welcomed” the white supremacist “Proud Boys” to his campaign events, Lucansky said she would have to get back to NHJournal. She also acknowledged that some openly antisemitic people appear at anti-Israel protests, but they don’t define the positions of organizations like hers.
Writing for Commentary, a magazine for conservative Jewish thought and opinion, Seth Mandel said anti-Israel progressives like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) have “elevated leftist Jewish groups such as INN to new prominence by using them to shield The Squad from accusations of antisemitism.”
Asked to name protests by IfNotNow has made against the public anti-semitic remarks by Omar, MSNBC’s Al Sharpton, or other progressives, Lucansky said she would have to get back to NHJournal on that, too.
As of press time, she had not.
NOTE: An earlier version misstated the chant Mr. Lucansky was making when being removed from the stage. NHJournal regrets the error.