Column: DeSantis Visit to Israel Not All That Kosher

“They love him in Israel.”

Do they love him in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach, the main cities and their suburbs where most Florida Jews live? Or, for that matter, Floridians generally who live in those areas?

Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade county voters consistently vote for Democrats, with solid help from the Jewish community.

So there was Ron DeSantis in Jerusalem Thursday last week signing a new law to increase criminal penalties for antisemitic and other bias crimes. Such a law does not directly do anything for Israel, but it could help the more than half-million Jews who live in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade.

Florida state Rep. Mike Caruso, who described Israel’s new-found affection for his governor, said he rushed the bias crimes bill through the legislature – the Florida legislature, that is – so that DeSantis could sign it into law in a ceremony during his visit to Jerusalem, according to The New York Times.

Perhaps there is something symbolic about the governor signing it in a Jerusalem ceremony, but it feels so strange. He could have signed it in Tallahassee, the state capital, or in southern Florida. DeSantis, a prospective Republican presidential candidate, could fly around the globe to meet with leaders from London to Tokyo, with Jerusalem in between, during recent weeks.

Even when Fort Lauderdale and surrounding towns were flooded earlier in April, DeSantis reportedly would not fly 450 miles from Tallahassee to Broward to make a public appearance. A tornado last Saturday struck Palm Beach Gardens, also home to a sizeable Jewish population, and we await DeSantis’s response at this writing.

We can appreciate DeSantis’s strong support for Israel, but his top priority must be not only with issues impacting the Jews of Florida but all Floridians.

The legislation to augment penalties for antisemitic crimes is a step in the right direction, but strong gun-safety laws would afford far more protection for Florida Jews to prevent another tragedy such as that in Pittsburgh or Poway, Calif. In fact, Jewish students were among those killed at a school in Parkland, Fla. A store in Boulder, Colo., – home to a large Jewish population – was the scene of a mass murder.

Instead of moving to reduce gun deaths, DeSantis signed a bill authorizing anyone to conceal carry-on guns without a permit, forcing Florida Jews to become more vulnerable to gun violence.

As a caveat, gun-safety laws would not eliminate antisemitic acts in Florida or elsewhere because the vast majority of antisemitic actions do not involve firearms. However, cutting off access to firearms would hopefully reduce the volume of gun violence. That would leave law enforcement with more space and time to confront all other crimes.

Florida’s governor insults the state’s Jewish population when he suggests that American Jews and the Biden administration are trying to dictate Israel’s decisions to govern, particularly the Knesset’s slim majority seeking to transform the Supreme Court’s authority.

“We must also in America respect Israel’s right to make its own decisions about its own governance,” DeSantis urged…in Jerusalem. “You’re a smart country, you figure it out; it shouldn’t be for us to butt into these important issues.”

A smart country? The people are smart, but can anyone characterize the Israeli government that way? How smart can those in power be if they have set the stage for a civil war? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially sided with religious rightwing Jews who seek to impose their will on the vast majority of Israelis, and that vast majority is pushing back with hurricane force.

Not to mention that Arab terrorists are probably emboldened by Israel’s unprecedented political chaos.

Maybe it is not for DeSantis “to butt into these important issues,” but American Jews of all people have the right to “butt in.” We contribute to Jewish charities to help Israel, lobby the president and Congress for their formidable support of Israel and even defend Israeli actions when we are confused about the situation.

Certainly, we cannot tell the Israeli government what to do, but we have earned the right to register our opinions. So does the federal government, which supplies ongoing military and diplomatic aid.

There are still many American Jews who stand behind the Knesset majority’s plans, but the division here is hardly even. Politically conservative Jews form an ample minority who vote Republican. In fact, Donald Trump won 41 percent of Florida’s Jewish vote in the 2020 presidential election. The usual national average for Jews voting Democratic in presidential elections is 75 percent.

The governor’s loose Covid-19 policies dove-tailed with the fate of one Jewish woman in Broward County. She was already ill before contracting Covid-19 and died a few days later. This occurred in a region where beaches were open and jammed with tourists, and where restrictions on businesses were relaxed.

DeSantis was skirmishing with Mickey Mouse over Covid as early as the fall of 2021. When Disney World required its employees to vaccinate against Covid-19, DeSantis announced he would fine companies with worker vaccine mandates, according to The New York Daily News. His conflict with Disney World, Florida’s largest private employer, has escalated to the governor’s attempts to control the Orlando resort’s operations.

DeSantis should cease tempting fate. One never knows if Mickey Mouse decides to run against him. Barring that, an opponent with a sly sense of humor will campaign dressed as Mickey Mouse.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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