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DeSantis, State Contingent Ready For Israel Trip

Gov. Ron DeSantis, seen in a file photo.
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media

In his quest to become the most “pro-Israel” governor in the nation, Gov. Ron DeSantis this month will lead a first-ever Florida Cabinet meeting in Israel as part of a week-long trip in which he is also scheduled to talk with executives who might want to do business in the Sunshine State. 

A number of details about the May 25 to May 31 trip have not been announced, including how much it will cost taxpayers, how the public Cabinet meeting will be televised in Florida and what policy issues will be discussed at the meeting.

But The News Service of Florida confirmed that the governor has requested the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to provide security for Cabinet members and that Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis will attend with one staff member each. The office of Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried did not immediately confirm her plans.

At least two state lawmakers, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, and Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, have confirmed they will take part in the trip.

Katie Strickland, a spokeswoman for Patronis, said the CFO’s office has not received an agenda for the Cabinet meeting. The Florida Channel, which is funded by the state and broadcasts Cabinet meetings and numerous other types of government events, does not plan to cover the meeting in Israel, Beth Switzer, the channel’s executive director, said in an email Monday.

All events, particularly the Cabinet meeting, will “comply with sunshine laws,” and there will be public access to all Floridians, according to Helen Ferre, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office.

But Floridians who are members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which is highly critical of Israel, might not be welcome.

“I don’t think there is room for (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) activists to come to Israel,” Lior Haiat, the consul general for Miami, told the South Florida public-radio station WLRN. Haiat added that while DeSantis can hold a meeting is Israel, “we decide who enters and who doesn’t.”

The trip, which was planned with the help of the economic-development agency Enterprise Florida, is DeSantis’ first international trade mission. It is meant to enhance the strong relationship between Florida and Israel in areas of academic research, technology, business and science, DeSantis’ office said.

The governor, in announcing the trip last month, also touted his support of Israel.

“I promised to be the most pro-Israel governor in America and that the first delegation I would lead would be to the state of Israel,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Today, I’m pleased to report that I’m keeping that promise. Our delegation will bring business, academic and political leaders to help strengthen the bond between Florida and Israel.”

While plans are subject to change, DeSantis’ office said more than 10 business meetings are scheduled during the week with CEOs of Israeli companies that do business in Florida or hope to do so. Florida’s embattled tourism-marketing agency, Visit Florida, is also scheduled to host a reception with Israeli companies during the trip.

Florida lawmakers during the legislative session that ended Saturday also took steps designed to strengthen ties with Israel and combat anti-Semitism.

For example, they approved providing $400,000 to the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator program, which is an initiative of the Tampa Jewish Community Center and is meant to “act as a conduit for Israel high-tech ventures to open U.S. headquarters in Florida” in an effort to “increase the business connections between the economies of Israel and Florida,” according to a funding request considered by lawmakers.

Also, lawmakers passed a bill, sponsored by Fine, that would treat discrimination against Jewish people at Florida education institutions the same as acts of racial discrimination are treated.

As the trip approaches, Israel has seen an escalating conflict involving Gaza, including rocket attacks by Hamas and retaliatory airstrikes by Israel. DeSantis said he has not been asked by Israelis to postpone the trip.

“We don’t want to put anyone in danger, but hopefully everything will be good,” DeSantis said Tuesday.

“We’re just going to work with the Israelis to make sure that’s it’s a good time to go. And if it’s not, then we’ll reschedule it. But we haven’t been told that we have to reschedule it,” he added.

The dates of the Israel trip coincide with the 2019 Israel-American Business Summit, which DeSantis previously said he would attend as the keynote speaker. The event will be held by the Federations of Israeli Chambers of Commerce and the U.S. Embassy.

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