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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Dwight Bullard pushes back on attacks over Israel trip as critics repeat 'terrorist' claims

Miami Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard

Mira TV / YouTube

Miami Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard

4

November

Nearing Election Day in a competitive race, incumbent Miami Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard recently ramped up his defense against weeks-long political attacks over a trip he took to the Middle East last spring.

The normally mild-mannered lawmaker has taken an aggressive approach: He did a lengthy interview on Spanish-language TV last week to address the matter and, this week, has twice publicly rebutted emails blasted out on a pro-Israel mailing list that have attacked Bullard and claim he's anti-Semitic and not answering questions about his trip with a Miami-based social justice organization.

On Friday, one of his former Democratic primary opponents, former Miami-Dade School Board member and state Rep. Ana Rivas Loganalso came to his defense by formally endorsing his campaign.

NBC6 Miami first reported in late August -- a week before the contested Democratic primary in Bullard's District 40 race -- that Bullard had traveled to Palestinian areas of Israel "in the company of a man linked to a terror group."

In the weeks since the primary, allegations about the controversial trip have continued to dog Bullard as they became fodder for continuous attacks.

A political committee for Florida Senate Republicans -- who are backing Bullard's challenger, Miami Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles -- paid for an eye-catching, Spanish-language ad this fall that included footage from the 9/11 terrorist attacks in accusing Bullard of spending time with a "terrorist."

MORE: "GOP ad featuring 9/11 footage accuses Dwight Bullard of meeting with 'terrorist'"

Pro-Israel activist and South Florida businessman Joe Zevuloni, who originally spoke with NBC6, remains outspoken against Bullard. He told the Herald/Times this week that he's not satisfied with explanations Bullard has given.

"I don't buy those lies," he said, adding that he feels Bullard is sympathizing with and "glorifying" terrorists. (State records show Zevuloni gave Artiles' campaign $1,000 in October.)

Bullard has disputed such claims. He has maintained that he didn't know at the time of his trip that the man who served as his group's tour guide had past ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization.

On an episode of Mira TV's "Prohibido Callarse" last week, Bullard said he didn't know of his tour guide's "past affiliations until two months after I got back from the trip" when NBC6 brought it to his attention.

"Like any sort of tourist situation, if you were taking a tour of the Washington Monument or the Grand Canyon, you meet a tour guide on that day," he told Mira TV. "You’re not inclined to Google that person or research that person, because they’re presented to you as a tour guide."

The trip was organized through a Miami group called Dream Defenders, which has taken a stance on a variety of social justice issues. In regards to Palestine, the group says, in part, on its website that "Palestinians living within Israel continue to be discriminated against." Bullard is featured on the group's website as part of photos from the May trip.

In the Mira TV interview, he called it a "great educational trip" in which he "learned a lot" and disputed accusations that he's not supportive of Israel. (He previously told NBC6 that he is "pro-Israel, but I'm also pro-Palestine in that people can co-exist. ... My position is co-existence.")

He also lashed out at his opponent, Artiles, for perpetuating attacks that accuse of him of consorting with terrorists.

"I find it very offensive that any opponent of mine -- let alone one who has served in the military and has served in the House of Representatives with me -- would stoop so low as to try to make me out to be a terrorist or say I have any affiliation with terrorist organizations," Bullard said, telling Artiles through the camera: "You should be ashamed of yourself."

Asked for comment about Bullard's remarks, Artiles told the Herald/Times in a statement Friday that Bullard "is the one who is offensive."

"He went on a trip considered offensive by many Jewish groups and leaders in our community," Artiles said. "Rather than Dwight being offended by his constituents asking him to explain this trip and who really paid for it, the voters should be offended that he refuses to truthfully answer their questions."

Bullard is answering questions, though.

He has openly responded to reporters' inquiries about the trip. For instance, he previously told the Herald/Times he paid his own way at a rate Dream Defenders offered to all participants of its delegation trip.

Twice this week, Bullard also went on the offensive to address attacks and claims made in emails sent to a mailing list by what's identified only as "Pro Israel Floridian."

Bullard copied several reporters in his rebuttals -- which you can read here and here. He addresses specific questions in-line, such as "Does Dwight Bullard hate America?"

"Nope, I still love my country, but you seem to really HATE me," Bullard wrote in one response Friday.

[Last modified: Friday, November 4, 2016 5:21pm]

    

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