Georgia 2018: Stacey Abrams' stance on Israel under scrutiny in race for governor

Democrat Stacey Abrams. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

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Democrat Stacey Abrams. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

A prominent Jewish developer slammed Democrat Stacey Abrams for her vote against legislation that required firms bidding for state contracts to certify that they aren't participating in an economic boycott of Israel.

Steve Berman, founder of OA Development, wrote in the Atlanta Jewish Times that he was disappointed that Abrams was one of only a handful of legislators to speak against the bill on the Georgia House floor. He also claimed that she "refused" to meet with pro-Israel activists about the measure targeting "boycott, divestment and sanctions" campaigns.

ExploreFrom his op-ed:

In Georgia’s Democratic primary for Governor, we have a moment that will help us establish whether our party will maintain its strong support for Israel. Stacey Abrams’s tacit support for the BDS movement ignores years of solid Jewish support for the Democratic Party and brings into question whether this singular event disqualifies her as the standard bearer of the Democratic Party in Georgia.

Abrams published a lengthy response to the op-ed on Medium late Wednesday, calling herself an "unwavering ally" to the Jewish community. She said she rejects the "demonization and delegitimization of Israel" represented by the BDS campaign.

But she said she voted against the measure because it could set a precedent "that could prevent a 21st century campaign similar to the actions taken by civil rights fighters" such as the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s.

ExploreFrom her piece:

Leveraging this law, angry state actors could prevent future movements from taking root in Georgia by allowing the state to cut off funds for participation in a boycott grounded in a different injustice. My fears are not speculative. Just this year, the Republican legislature approved a measure to deny funding to private colleges that supported efforts to shield undocumented students from draconian federal immigration tactics. I staunchly opposed this bill as well.

Abrams, who was the top Democrat in the House, also said the caucus discussed the legislation but never took a position because of the "complicated nature of the bill." She said she never refused to meet with anyone who requested to speak with her about the issue.

Her Democratic opponent, Stacey Evans, voted for the measure. But several other high-profile Democrats voted against it, including current House Minority Leader Bob Trammell and Carolyn Hugley, the party's second-ranking official.

AIPAC, the influential pro-Israel lobby, has long been a top proponent of the push in state legislatures to pass laws formally condemning the BDS movement. AIPAC contends that the BDS campaign "dishonestly equates former apartheid South Africa with present-day Israel in order to enlist people of conscience" to their side.

Abrams' campaign pointed to Lois Frank, a well-known activist in the Jewish community who vouched for the candidate's "longstanding ties to our community."

"She has taken the time to share her experience and voting record with me. I believe that she is a principled leader who has been - and remains - a friend to the Jewish community," said Frank.

Foreign policy in the Middle East factored into Georgia's last race for governor, too, when Gov. Nathan Deal tried to tie Democrat Jason Carter to his grandfather's view of Hamas, the militant faction that the U.S. considers a terrorist group. Former President Jimmy Carter called for Hamas to be recognized as a legitimate political actor in the closing months of the campaign.