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Ron DeSantis to meet with Netanyahu while in Israel next week

Florida’s governor has expressed admiration for Israel’s prime minister in the past, but Netanyahu is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the state’s trade mission next week, according to a rough itinerary released Thursday.

The meeting is scheduled for the afternoon of May 29th. After DeSantis formally announced the state’s official trip to Israel in April, shortly before Israel’s national elections, he told reporters: “I love Bibi,” using the leader’s nickname, adding they have a “good relationship.”

Netanyahu was re-elected, but he has been facing heat since the Israeli attorney general recommended he face corruption charges, which Netanyahu called a “witch hunt.” Just this week, one of his supporters in parliament introduced a bill to provide Netanyahu with immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases against him.

Before the election results were in, DeSantis also said he would work with any leader if Netanyahu was ousted to ensure Florida’s partnership with the country endures.

During the state’s trip, which begins Saturday with a return on May 31, state university, colleges and likely businesses will be signing agreements with Israeli counterparts to partner on research and other endeavors. In total, the trip will include nearly 100 elected leaders, lobbyists, industry executives and academics.

READ MORE: DeSantis, Florida Cabinet’s trip to Israel will include top-tier lobbyists, academics

There have been mounting questions about how a planned meeting of the Florida Cabinet in Jerusalem will comply with the state’s open meetings laws, which require the public to have the ability to watch and offer comments when the state conducts official business.

But the itinerary released Thursday now lists the Cabinet meeting as “ceremonial." Florida law says that the public must be provided with “a reasonable opportunity to be heard” unless a meeting only consists of “ceremonial proclamations.”

Helen Aguirre Ferré, a spokeswoman for the governor, said that this first-of-its-kind overseas meeting of the governor, attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner will not involve any binding votes of the Cabinet.

“This meeting of Florida Cabinet members is not considering any board or agency business," she said. "It will be an information-gathering meeting where they will listen to Israeli best practices on issues of mutual interest for Florida and Israel, such as water resources and security.”

The Florida Channel, the state’s public television station, will be attending the trip and is expected to livestream the meeting on Wednesday.

But the fact that no votes are being taken is “immaterial,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the open government group the First Amendment Foundation, which counts the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald as members. The state constitution requires any meeting of a state government body where “public business ... is to be transacted or discussed” to be “open” to the public.