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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida Cabinet Meets in Jerusalem

TALLAHASSEE –  The Florida Cabinet’s first-ever meeting on foreign soil went off without a hitch Wednesday, but not without a glitch or two as the live-streamed feed from the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem left Florida television viewers occasionally with blank screens, without sound, and often wondering who said what when.

But while the technical malfunctions were aggravating, they were not disruptive enough to justify voiding any actions taken during the 40-minute “ceremonial” meeting, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

And that’s primarily because there were no binding actions taken during the meeting other than the “ceremonial” signing of the state’s new anti-Semitism bill, which would have gone into effect 15 days after transmittal from the legislature anyway, regardless if the governor signed it or not.

The First Amendment Foundation [FAF], Gannett Co., Gatehouse Media, the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, who had unsuccessfully sued Tuesday to have the meeting cancelled, may have a different interpretation and seek a court ruling to have the meeting declared in violation of state law to void any actions taken.

In addition to signing House Bill 741, those actions would include a proclamation expressing Florida’s support for Israel and presentations on terrorism, water and emergency response preparation.

DeSantis called the FAF-led legal challenge, which included a last-minute motion, “totally baseless” and “not meritorious, frivolous litigation, adding, “I think people sometimes want to cause a ruckus.”

The meeting was not without humor that underscored the reality that the Floridians were not in Tallahassee anymore.

During a water-quality discussion, a representative of an Israeli water purification company discussed projects and collaboration with the Palestinian Authority in Gaza which, essentially, means cooperating with Hamas, the Sunni militia the United States has classified as a terrorist group.

“We are working together,” he said. “We are supplying water, they are supplying missiles.”

At one point, as Attorney General Ashley Moody was discussing security-related insights gleaned from Israeli officials, the sound and video feed went dead and returned moments later as she said “… they have excelled in technology in ways that we are learning from on a daily basis.”

Moody was apparently one of few unaware of the malfunction and the irony of her last sentence was met with laughter.

Nor was it without its somber moments. The meeting, staged in the Wasson Room – named for Thomas Campbell Wasson, an American diplomat assassinated in 1948 by a sniper on what’s now Abraham Lincoln Street in Jerusalem – included speakers who recounted how they lost loved ones in acts of terrorism.

The meeting’s highlight was DeSantis signing HB 741, which amends the Florida Educational Equality Act to add religion to the list of categories for which discrimination is prohibited, and adopts a 2017 definition of anti-Semitism encoded by the Miami-Dade County city of Bal Harbour and endorsed by the U.S. State Department.

DeSantis was joined by bill sponsor, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who recalled a 7th grade algebra teacher failing him on a test he missed on Yom Kippur because it wasn’t a “real holiday.”

Noting HB 741 was passed unanimously by both chambers, Fine said, “Every single member voted for this without a no vote because of the men and women they are.”

Fine said fears that the bill would not allow criticism of Israel as a nation-state is unfounded, “but when you single out Israel or use anti-Semitic quotes, that is anti-Semitic.”

Before the Cabinet meeting, DeSantis spoke with reporters at an anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction Israel) event on the West Bank, claiming the movement is “an obstacle to peace” because it “does not recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Its leaders ignore the complexity of Israel’s reality and fail to offer a reasonable path forward in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

He said his pro-Israeli stance and outspoken characterization of the BDS movement as racist and anti-Semitic was among the reasons why he narrowly defeated progressive Democrat Andrew Gillum in November in their gubernatorial race.

DeSantis said Gillum embraced the BDS movement before the primaries but didn’t do so during the general election.

“He knew that if he was tagged as pro-BDS, your chance of winning in Florida declines dramatically,” he said.

The Cabinet meeting was among the highlights of Florida’s six-day, 90-member trade mission to Israel that began Saturday and ends Friday.

On Thursday, the delegation will participate in a “cultural visit” to the Old City of Jerusalem and DeSantis will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before attending a farewell dinner and departing Friday.

This piece appeared in the The Center Square and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

Layout and graphic added by the Observer; composite image by the Observer. Map: CIA

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