Mondoweiss / May 25, 2023
Ron DeSantis comes sputtering into the Republican presidential primary and has placed his unwavering commitment to Israel at the center of his foreign policy agenda.
Ron DeSantis comes sputtering into the Republican primary claiming that he can make America as inhospitable to minorities as Florida. His commitment to Israel is unwavering, and he’s framed it as the touchstone of his foreign policy agenda. He’s visited the country multiple times as a congress member and now as a Governor. He was there last month, delivering a keynote address at the Museum of Tolerance, which was erected atop a Muslim cemetery. “Israel stands tall as a beacon of freedom in a troubled region, an engine of economic growth and opportunity and center of innovation and technology, that is the envy of the world.”
“Israel is also one of America’s most valued and trusted allies,” he told the crowd. “Maintaining a strong Israel relationship has been a priority for me during my time in elected office, and I know it’s been a priority for the overwhelming majority of the American people.”
In 2019 DeSantis signed an antisemitism bill that would censor some criticisms of Israel throughout the state. He celebrated the legislation during a ceremonial cabinet meeting in Israel that ended with Florida lawmakers issuing a declaration of support for Israel. The delegation included the late pro-Israel mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam. You can imagine the reaction if such a thing happened in any other country on earth, but because of the “special relationship” this moment was barely covered by national media. A group of organizations actually filed a lawsuit against Florida’s government, claiming the meeting violated Florida’s transparency laws by taking place in a foreign country, but that didn’t get a whole lot of press either.
Running to the right of Trump on Israel might seem nearly impossible, but DeSantis is apparently going to try. A recent Haaretz piece from Ben Samuels breaks down the Governor’s strategy. For starters, he’s claiming that he’s the one who pressured Trump to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. “When we were trying to cajole the previous administration to do it, I actually launched a very small delegation over here,” he declared in Israel. “We looked at a bunch of different sites. We had a big press conference to announce that this was going to happen. We were confident, and there was a plethora of possibilities to be able to do.”
He’s also criticized Trump’s “deal of the century” talk because the plan involved a two-state solution, which is good indication of how extreme the party has become on the issue.
DeSantis’s humiliating campaign launch featured a number of individuals accused of antisemitism. He made the announcement alongside Elon Musk, who recently declared that George Soros “hates humanity.” Radio host Steve Deace, who once shared an antisemitic propaganda video claiming Jews are responsible for multiculturalism, was one of the guests. So was former NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, who in 2010 tweeted, “I bet Rick Sanchez was fired by a Jew” and declaring that “everybody that runs CNN” is a lot like Jon Stewart.
There’s nothing particularly shocking here, but it’s a good reminder of what lawmakers like DeSantis mean when they rail against antisemitism. They’re not talking about Jewish people, they’re talking about Israel. That’s it.
Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss