DeSantis’s Israel speech spotlights his foreign policy ahead of 2024

JERUSALEM – As a congressman, Ron DeSantis traveled here to scout the US Embassy sites, encouraging President Donald Trump to break diplomatic tradition and recognize the disputed holy city as Israel’s capital.

As governor of Florida, he visited an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, a largely Palestinian territory he calls “disputed,” and highlighted his campaign promise to be the “most pro-Israel governor in the country.”

Now he is in Jerusalem for his highest-profile platform yet to discuss foreign affairs ahead of a 2024 presidential campaign: a keynote speech and press conference Thursday at an event that also features Israel’s president, a figure in much ceremonial. Appearance is meant to highlight DeSantis’ close alignment with Israel, an asset in a Republican primary, at what DeSantis has called “a time of unnecessarily strained relations between Jerusalem and Washington.”

Biden-Netanyahu spat on sight

The governor has been an outspoken critic of President Biden, even during his current trade mission in four countries from Florida. Thursday’s visit shows the governor’s desire to challenge the president abroad. biden last month criticized the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push to reduce the power of his country’s judiciary, a plan that has sparked mass protests and alarmed some government officials.

DeSantis in his speech indicated that the United States had no business influencing Israeli policy actions.

“We must also in the United States respect Israel’s right to make its own decisions about its own government. You are a smart country. Find out for yourself, ”he said in his speech.

Netanyahu and his allies, part of the most far-right government in Israel’s history, denounce the country’s courts as “activist” liberal institutions in need of an overhaul. His proposals include allowing parliament to overturn Supreme Court decisions; and give the government more power to choose judges, possibly including those overseeing Netanyahu’s corruption trial. Critics say the reform would destroy Israel’s system of checks and balances and cause lasting damage to its democracy.

DeSantis has developed a reputation in the United States as a hardline conservative who opposed many coronavirus restrictions, approved restrictions on school discussion about gender and sexual orientation, and sought to punish Disney after it opposed the legislation. (Disney is now suing DeSantis.) Thursday’s visit could help distinguish DeSantis in a Republican camp that staunchly supports Israel, as he addresses a crowd packed with conservative American donors.

“This is a very smart decision for an early trip,” said Elliott Abrams, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has worked in the presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Trump. He noted that Trump thrilled many Jewish Republicans with his approach to Israel as president, but also said many are looking beyond him to 2024.

trump who is run for president again and in the polls well ahead of his rivals, he sided with Israel in thorny territorial disputes that lasted for decades. He moved the US embassy to Jerusalem after many years of broken Republican promises, and recognized the disputed Golan Heights region. like Israel’s.

But many 2024 hopefuls, including DeSantis, have been courting members of the Jewish community and have their own backgrounds to promote. And Trump alienated some supporters last fall, drawing a rebuke of his former ambassador to Israel, when he hosted rapper Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), who recently made headlines for his anti-Semitic comments, and far-right activist Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist and anti-Semite who has denied the events of the holocaust.

DeSantis spoke Thursday morning at a event called “Celebrate the Faces of Israel,” sponsored by the Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance and the Jerusalem Post, which promises a debate on “issues of religion and state, US-Israel relations, judicial review, Jewish-Arab tensions and more”. Speakers They include Israeli President Isaac Herzog, US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides, his predecessor David Friedman, and Museum of Tolerance President Larry Mizel, a US-based philanthropist long known for help Republican presidential hopefuls navigate Israel.

Mizel, who did not respond to an interview request, has supported Trump in the past, while Rabbi Marvin Hier, co-founder of the museum, once delivered a prayer at Trump’s inauguration. Political observers took note of DeSantis’ prominent role in Thursday’s event, and a person in Mizel’s orbit said he took it as a sign that he “is okay to back another horse” in 2024.

DeSantis could use his trip to promote or sign a Florida hate crimes bill intended in part to address recent incidents of anti-Semitism, such as a swastika being projected onto a building. The state legislature just sent the measure to the desk of DeSantis, who held a signing ceremony for another anti-Semitism bill during his visit to Israel in 2019.

Israel is DeSantis’ third stop this week on a tour with a business delegation from Florida. Earlier this week he visited Japan and South Korea, where he met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and other government and business officials.

DeSantis’s allies hope the trip could boost his overseas credentials by 2024, and he has already faced significant scrutiny over his approach to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Both Republicans and Democrats rejected his description of the war as a “territorial dispute,” a phrase he later sought to clarify when he took a tougher tone against Russia and called Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal.

Despite that change, DeSantis has continued to express skepticism about US involvement in Ukraine. He saying in an interview Tuesday with Nikkei Asia that “it is in everyone’s interest to try to get to a place where we can have a ceasefire,” a message out of step with the Biden administration, which has said ceasefires would allow Russia to rest and rearm.

DeSantis’ office said little about his plans in Israel beyond the “Faces of Israel” appearance, announcing in a press release last week that he would meet with unspecified Israeli business and government leaders. People in DeSantis’ orbit widely expect him to talk to Netanyahu; DeSantis met with him and praised him during his visit to Israel in 2019.

A Netanyahu spokesman said Wednesday they had no information to share. Netanyahu suggested on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” last weekend that he would greet DeSantis as he would any US official.

“Of course, I’ll meet everyone,” he said when asked about DeSantis’ trip. “Why not? I meet with Republican governors and Democratic governors.”

Protesters opposing Netanyahu’s judicial reform are expected to greet attendees at a “Faces of Israel” event on Thursday. The plan is deeply divisive in Israel and has generated a mixed response from Jewish leaders in the United States, with some highly critical and others suggesting it is not their place to weigh in.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, which calls itself the home of liberal American Jews, said he sees parallels between the message of court reform advocates and that of American Republicans, who have similar complaints about the media, judges and “elites”. .”

“As long as that part of the Republican Party is still in firm control, I don’t see a lot of light emerging between the Republican Party and what’s happening on the right in Israel,” Ben-Ami said.

Min Joo Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

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