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St. Petersburg developer and Israel supporter Mel Sembler attends Abraham Accords signing

Sembler, 90, who has taken several politicians abroad to Israel, was invited to attend the signing by President Donald Trump.

When Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain penned their historic diplomatic agreement deal on Tuesday, St. Petersburg development magnate, former ambassador and Republican fundraiser Mel Sembler was there.

Sembler, 90, who is Jewish, said he had no hand in the negotiation of the Abraham Accords, so named because Abraham was the father of three religions — Judaism, Islam and Christianity. But Sembler has always been an outspoken supporter of Israel, and has accompanied several politicians to the homeland, including Dick Cheney in 1994, George W. Bush for his first trip in 1998 and Mitt Romney while he ran for president.

His devotion to Israel has earned him wider notice.

“I’m a good friend of Bibi Netanyahu’s, and many other prime ministers," Sembler said. Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, was in Washington to sign the deal, along with Emirati Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, the foreign minister of Bahrain.

Mel Sembler at the White House on Tuesday.
Mel Sembler at the White House on Tuesday. [ Special to the Times ]

The diplomatic agreement will help normalize relations between Israel and the two countries, a significant step because most Arab nations have historically shunned Israel in support of a Palestinian state.

Sembler has held two ambassadorships, one to Australia under President George H.W. Bush, and one to Italy under President George W. Bush. Once a Democrat, Sembler and his wife, Betty, have been robust fundraising bundlers for Republican candidates, drawn to the party over its more conservative approach on drugs.

Sembler’s invitation, which arrived via email Friday night, indicates he was invited by President Donald Trump.

Mel Sembler, 90, a St. Petersburg developer, former ambassador, Republican fundraiser and staunch supporter of Israel, was invited to Washington to witness the signing of the Abraham Accords on Tuesday, 9/15/2020, between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain at the White House.
Mel Sembler, 90, a St. Petersburg developer, former ambassador, Republican fundraiser and staunch supporter of Israel, was invited to Washington to witness the signing of the Abraham Accords on Tuesday, 9/15/2020, between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain at the White House. [ Courtesy of Mel Sembler ]

His trip to Washington was almost derailed Monday. His private plane, which took off from St. Petersburg, had to make an unscheduled landing in Jacksonville after it suffered a problem with its air conditioner. A replacement plane had to be flown in from Atlanta.

“Nothing was serious," Sembler said. "But these things happen when you’re flying on private planes.”

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