JERUSALEM -- Florida’s historic Cabinet meeting in what turned out to be an annex of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem went off with only minor glitches with the phone conferencing equipment, and got downright personal for the only Jewish member, Nikki Fried.
“This is launching off the Jerusalem leg of our trip,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said afterwards, adding that the delegation was going to the City of David Thursday. “I think it was really strong.”
After going through a security check at the street entrance that required attendees to turn over their passports for visitor badges, the media and other attendees were escorted through the grounds of the former consulate building to a skylit room with stone columns that used to be the chapel of a monastery. The room was named after Thomas C. Wasson, the first ambassador to Israel who was shot to death while crossing the street.
DeSantis got the meeting started by asking Ben Cohen back in the Florida Cabinet chamber in Tallahassee to provide an invocation but the conference system didn’t recognize the code – four times.
Instead he asked Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis to give the invocation. Afterwards, Attorney General Ashley Moody joked that Israel excels in technology, which made the ability for people to watch it livestreamed back in Florida possible.
DeSantis said the embassy annex used to house the U.S. consulate, “providing assistance to Palestinian Arabs,” DeSantis said. He explained they were using the annex because the main building in the Arnona consular section of Jerusalem where the groundbreaking for the embassy was held last year was still under construction.
“This Cabinet voted to recognize this as the Capitol of Israel and here we are,” DeSantis said, joking that the Cabinet meeting might actually get some attention for a change.
He offered a resolution recognizing the relationship between Israel and Florida, calling Israel a true friend of the U.S.
And they honored a woman whose husband was stabbed in the back last year by a 16-year-old Arab boy. She told the Cabinet the perpetrator “was raised to have nothing but hatred for Jews.”
Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, the first Jewish woman elected to the Cabinet, and its only Democrat, recounted her first trip to Israel 25 years ago after she’d toured Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland.
“It had a lasting impact on me to stand up for injustice and be the voice for the people that have no voice,” Fried said.
After the meeting ended, DeSantis signed an anti-Semitism bill that was passed almost unanimously by the Florida Legislature.
The Florida measure adds religion to the list of things that cannot be discriminated against. It also requires Florida public schools and colleges to treat incidents of antisemitism by students, teachers and other employees the same as racism.
The term “antisemitism” is described in the bill as a perception of Jews as expressions of hatred, rhetorical and physical attacks directed toward somebody because they are Jewish, and attacks on Jewish homes, institutions and religious facilities.
USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA Statehouse Reporter Jeffrey Schweers is accompanying Gov. Ron DeSantis and his 90-plus member delegation on his Israeli business development mission this week as a pool reporter for the Florida Society of News Editors. Schweers will provide regular reports and updates from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for Florida’s newspapers. Follow him on Twitter for updates @jeffschweers.