Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday during a press conference at Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El in Plantation that he will make a formal outreach trip to Israel, making it his first international trip as governor, precisely as he promised six months ago.
All he's waiting for, he said, is the completion of the 2019 legislative session.
Although the announcement came at a planned press conference, the timing was a remarkable demonstration of the divide between the Republican and Democratic parties in Florida over their Jewish relationship.
On Monday, just one day ahead of the DeSantis presser, Democrats in the state Senate made the curious decision to show opposition to a new anti-Semitism bill. Drawn up as a response to the failure of Democrats in the U.S. House to produce a proper resolution on the matter last month, this legislation would require schools and colleges to begin responding to charges of anti-Semitism the same as they would allegations of racial discrimination. The Senate Democrats made a curious stance that was not unlike the position taken by their brethren in Washington, D.C.
DeSantis on Tuesday outlined his trip, set to take place May 25. “I think it’s a really unprecedented effort to strengthen ties between Florida and Israel,” he stated, mentioning he will be taking a contingent of some 75 mainly business leaders and those from emergency management fields. The governor will also serve as the keynote speaker at the 2019 Israel-American Business Summit at the US Embassy that same week.
Meanwhile in Tallahassee, Senate Dems are battling against the anti-semitism bill. The legislation contains details declaring what is deemed anti-semitic, such as language demonizing people of the Jewish faith, as well as “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.” It moved through the House chamber without a single dissenting vote.
But Monday in the Senate, the bill ran up against a blue wall.
Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, rose in opposition. She claimed the bill gave “special protections”, and opposed it on its narrow language. “I will tell you, this kind of thing is what creates divisiveness in this country. It’s an intentional piece of legislation to divide.”
Seeing a bill that addresses hateful and distancing language and declaring it “divisive” is a curious interpretation.
In her desire to be wide-reaching, Gibson was directly echoing the actions of the Democrats last month in D.C. After calling for an an emergency resolution as a result of repeated anti-Semitic remarks by freshman Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., the House Democrats rewrote their document numerous times to water it down. Eventually they ended up with a neutered bill, and couldn't even list Omar by name in the final draft.
The bill written in the Florida House was a direct response to this action, or non-action, as it were. When it came to a vote last month, Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, mentioned Omar, and the House Democrats' failure to act appropriately. “It is a shame that we have to spend time in the Florida Legislature making this statement," Grant said. “But the reality is, we do. Washington seemingly doesn’t have the spine to make this statement.”
A co-sponsor of House Bill 741, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said at the time of the vote, “When you have open anti-Semites serving in Congress, it’s important that the state of Florida take a strong stand against this sort of thing.” Following the comments from the state Senate on Monday, Fine had an even more pointed response.
Referencing Sen. Gibson from his Twitter account, Fine said, “Not just any Democratic senator. No, the top ranking Democrat in the Florida Senate. Not sure whether to be sad or angry. Actually, both.” Businessman Fine, incidentally, will be joining DeSantis next month as a member in the contingent going to Israel.
When he introduced the bill, Fine said this: “We now live in a time where open anti-Semites are promoted in Congress, and companies discriminating against American Jews believe they can hold public offerings. This is simply unacceptable. The State of Florida needs to make clear that anti-Semitism sits at the intersection of racism, sexism, and discrimination based on a disability or national origin. This legislation does not legislate how anti-Semitism should be treated in education, but it will eliminate the ability for any institution to discriminate in how they treat such discrimination.”
Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who also is the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, introduced the HB 741 companion bill in the upper chamber.
Two Republicans at the heart of a bill that says hell-no to anti-Semitism.
The contrast is notable in the Florida parties' positions: Florida Democrats unable to deliver a blow to anti-Semitism; and DeSantis in his Tuesday speech praising the way the U.S. and Israel share values, economic interests, and a strong military partnership: “... A tiny little country in a troubled part of the world standing for freedom, for democratic principles, for entrepreneurship, for innovation,” the governor said. “And really, the foundation of our civilization here in the United States, and really the entire West can be traced back to that plot of land.”
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.