Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will deliver an address next month in Jerusalem, a trip that is certain to inject the likely Republican presidential contender into Israel’s national tumult and its increasingly fraught relationship with the United States.
The Jerusalem Post and the Museum of Tolerance announced Tuesday that DeSantis would serve as the keynote speaker of the organizations’ April 27 event, his second trip to Israel as governor. The rollout of the planned foreign trip comes as the White House has escalated its rhetoric toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid his planned judicial reforms and intensifying unrest in the country.
In a statement to the Jerusalem Post, DeSantis seized on the rising tension between President Joe Biden and Netanyahu by signaling Florida’s continued unwavering support to the Jewish state.
“At a time of unnecessarily strained relations between Jerusalem and Washington, Florida serves as a bridge between the American and Israeli people,” DeSantis told the Jerusalem Post.
His statement did not address the widespread protests that have engulfed the Middle Eastern country following Netanyahu’s dismissal of his defense minister for speaking out against the proposed plans for the judiciary. DeSantis’ political operation did not respond to a request for comment.
The White House said Sunday it was watching the events unfold in Israel with “concern,” a week after Biden urged Netanyahu by phone to compromise on his controversial proposal. On Monday, it appeared Netanyahu had agreed to put the overhaul legislation on hold until after the Passover recess. That could mean DeSantis will arrive in Israel just as debate reignites over Netanyahu’s plans.
DeSantis has long positioned himself as an ally of Israel, visiting the country several times as a member of Congress and during his first six months as governor. He has sided with Israel repeatedly in its ongoing conflict with Palestinians, suggesting in 2019 that the latter is not interested in peace.
“If you look at this whole conflict, to me, the biggest problem has been that Palestinian Arabs have not recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” he said. “That kind of denialism poisons really everything.”
DeSantis has received past support from some of the Republican Party’s staunchest pro-Israel donors, including $500,000 during his 2018 race for governor from Miriam Adelson and her husband, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The couple also donated $5 million to the state GOP after DeSantis won the party’s gubernatorial nomination that year.
His 2019 visit came during another time of turmoil in Israeli politics as Netanyahu had failed to form a governing majority and was struggling to maintain his hold on power while facing corruption charges. DeSantis met with Netanyahu during the visit but declined to opine on the embattled leader’s fate.
“I’ll stay out of their politics,” DeSantis said during the trip.
His latest trip to the country is sure to highlight the intense battle in the GOP primary for Jewish and evangelical voters who consider support for Israel a top priority. Already, DeSantis and Trump have staked out competing narratives over the former president’s decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
In his recent book, “The Courage to Be Free,” DeSantis suggested Trump wavered on his campaign pledge to move the embassy out of Tel Aviv and he credited his own pressure campaign for forcing Trump’s hand. In 2017, DeSantis chaired a congressional committee meeting in support of the move and he led a fact-finding trip for possible embassy locations. During the trip, DeSantis said he expected Trump would make good on his promise, which he wrote left some wondering if he had inside information.
“I was freelancing, and my trip was not coordinated with the White House, so the answer was: not necessarily,” DeSantis said in the book.
DeSantis attended the May 2018 ceremony when Trump formally relocated the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. DeSantis wrote, “It was a great day and should have occurred years earlier.”
Speaking at his Waco, Texas, rally on Saturday, Trump boasted erroneously, “I promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem and I got it built…for a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the time. It was supposed to cost $2 billion, I got it built for $500,000.”
DeSantis’ international appearance will be preceded by an active travel schedule that will take DeSantis to Tennessee, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Utah in the weeks before an expected launch of a campaign for president in May or June.
The foreign trip comes as DeSantis has struggled of late to articulate his world view on another international situation, the war in Ukraine. After first suggesting the fight there was a “territorial dispute” that the US should not involve itself, he backtracked, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” and telling British television host Piers Morgan he could have been “more clear” about his opposition to Russia’s advancements in the region. Days later, DeSantis told Newsmax he “never changed” his position on Ukraine.