Ron DeSantis to go to Israel in April, will deliver speech at Jerusalem conference

He previously visited Israel as governor in 2019.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and CFO Jimmy Patronis examine a display at the Israel Space Agency in Tel Aviv in 2019.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and CFO Jimmy Patronis examine a display at the Israel Space Agency in Tel Aviv in 2019.
Published March 28|Updated March 28

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will travel to Israel next month as the country faces unprecedented protests over proposed reforms to its judiciary, an early foreign policy test of the potential presidential contender.

DeSantis is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at an event on April 27 hosted by the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem and The Jerusalem Post, the governor’s office confirmed Tuesday. Israeli officials confirmed to McClatchy that they are aware of the Republican governor’s travel plans.

DeSantis — who is in the midst of a nationwide book tour widely seen as a precursor to a GOP presidential campaign — will deliver his remarks before a crowd of 400 people, according to the news release announcing the event, including 120 U.S.-Jewish philanthropists. The governor is traveling to Israel as part of a larger Florida-Asian trade delegation.

The event where DeSantis will be speaking, titled “Celebrate the Faces of Israel,” will attempt to tackle ever-present tensions in Israel, teach about the country’s history, and introduce the audience to the changemakers who embrace tolerance and acceptance,” according to the release.

DeSantis, expected to launch a presidential campaign in a matter of months, said he looks forward to visiting “at a time of unnecessarily strained relations between Jerusalem and Washington,” according to the release.

The release did not mention if DeSantis would weigh in on the proposed changes to the judiciary, saying only that he would “speak about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship, especially in difficult times.” Any position from the governor would likely mark a major moment for his still-undeclared campaign, with the potential to ignite an international firestorm similar to the one he caused earlier this month after declaring that supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia was not a “vital” United States interest.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Monday delayed votes in the Israeli Knesset on an overhaul of Israel’s judiciary, which would have given the ruling party power to appoint justices and override Supreme Court decisions. Controversy over the impending vote has engulfed the country in recent weeks, with threats of a general strike and mass protests filling the country’s streets.

Opponents of the proposed changes have charged that they undermine Israel’s democracy. The measure was also the subject of conversation for President Joe Biden who, according to the White House, spoke to Netanyahu earlier this month to underscore that “democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

DeSantis and Israel

DeSantis has made support for Israel a foreign policy priority of his, dating back to his time in Congress.

In his book, “The Courage to be Free,” DeSantis writes about traveling to Israel in 2017 to scout locations for a new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, where then-President Donald Trump had promised to relocate the country’s diplomatic mission. The next year, he wrote, he attended the formal ceremony announcing the embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem.

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When he first ran for governor in 2018, he said he’d be “the most pro-Israel governor in the country” and repeated a story about how his wife bottled water from the Sea of Galilee during a trip to Israel to use in the baptism of their children.

After he was elected, he made good on a campaign promise to quickly make an international trip to Israel, traveling in May of 2019 to the country on a trade mission with a large Florida delegation. During the trip, the Florida Cabinet held an official state meeting despite a lawsuit from open-government advocates seeking to stop the event over the lack of public access.