“Carlos Lopez-Cantera doesn’t sound like a Jewish name,” Florida’s lieutenant governor recently joked when he addressed the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County. But he wants people to know that he’s proud of his Cuban-Jewish heritage.
“My father came from Cuba but he married a nice Jewish girl in Miami, and I followed suit and married a nice Jewish girl in Miami as well,” Lopez-Cantera told the group. “We keep a Jewish household and are raising our daughters Jewish.”
Lopez-Cantera is one of the leading candidates in the crowded Florida Republican primary battle for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat. He says his background gives him a “unique perspective” on what he characterized as the “two biggest foreign policy failures this year,” Cuba and Iran. Like Rubio, he has opposed the Obama administration’s efforts to end the Cuban embargo without demanding accountability from the Castro regime for its human rights abuses. He has also sharply criticized the Iran deal, as he discussed in an interview with Opportunity Lives in September.
Maintaining America’s strong relationship with Israel is another high priority for Lopez-Cantera, which is why he was glad to see the Florida legislature pass a bill that bars state agencies from doing business with companies that support the “Boycott, Divest, and Sanction” (BDS) movement against Israel.
The BDS campaign is an effort by anti-Israel organizers to encourage boycotts of Israeli companies, divestment of financial stakes in Israeli companies or companies that do business with Israel and the imposition of other sanctions on Israel. Critics of the BDS movement say these efforts not only economically punish Israel, but also stoke anti-Jewish hatred.
Critics of the BDS movement say these efforts not only economically punish Israel, but also stoke anti-Jewish hatred
The new Florida law, Senate Bill 86, not only bars the state of Florida from contracting with companies that boycott Israel, but it also prohibits state pension funds from being invested in these companies. Florida’s chief financial officer, Jeff Atwater, supervises the state’s pension funds and contractual relationships, and is empowered by the law to review the list of companies currently doing business with Florida or in which Florida’s pension funds are invested.
Lopez-Cantera says he wasn’t aware of any particular issue with a specific company that moved the legislature to act. But, as he explained to Opportunity Lives, the bill was more about sending a critically important message, especially as supporters of Israel have seen the BDS movement expanding and becoming more organized over the past few years.
“This [law] is more about the movement and a message as far as where Florida stands,” Lopez-Cantera said. “We stand firmly with Israel.”
Israel isn’t just an important foreign policy ally, but also a vital trading partner for the state of Florida, with $250 million in bilateral trade each year.
Lopez-Cantera, who travelled with the Republican Lieutenant Governors’ Association to Israel on Saturday, has found his faith earning more media attention with such issues in the news.
Some of the coverage has been a little odd, however. A Roll Call article published almost a year ago bizarrely claimed that “there is no evidence that [Lopez-Cantera] is a practicing Jew.” Roll Call reported that “sources” had told them that Lopez-Cantera’s two daughters attended Hebrew Day School and his wife was on the board for the Hebrew Loan Association of South Florida, but apparently never bothered to contact the Lieutenant Governor or his office for comment.
“This [law] is more about the movement and a message as far as where Florida stands. We stand firmly with Israel”
When asked about the Roll Call article, Lopez-Cantera, who had not read it, laughed when he heard the claims questioning his Jewishness. If they wanted evidence, he said, “they can look at my wedding photos where we were married by a rabbi.”
“I didn’t know there was a litmus test” for who should count as a Jew, he continued, calling the story “ridiculous.”
Florida is not alone in refusing to do business with pro-BDS companies. Last month, Illinois became the first state to identify specific companies in which state assets would no longer be invested because of their support of the BDS movement. Several other states have also passed resolutions and launched efforts to discourage or outright ban investments in companies that are boycotting Israel.
Sarah Rumpf is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. Follow her on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.