Ronald DeSantis, 40, is the Republican governor of Florida since only January 2019. A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, DeSantis served as an officer and attorney in the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) before he became a Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives (2013-2018).
An ally of President Trump, DeSantis is a rising star in the GOP. Though a relative unknown nationwide, DeSantis was included among the names in a recent Harvard-Harris national poll of five likely Trump vice-president running-mates in 2020. The other four are much better known: VP Mike Pence, Lindsey Graham, Nikki Hayley, and Marco Rubio.
Given DeSantis’s surprising political prominence, it should be of even more concern that he is governing the state of Florida as if it’s an offshoot of Israel by conducting government affairs in Jerusalem.
On May 29, 2019, while on a trade mission in Israel, DeSantis and members of his Cabinet (Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried) held a Cabinet meeting in the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
As reported by the AP via Times of Israel, a day before, an open-government watchdog group (The First Amendment Foundation) and several news outlets (Gannett Co., Gatehouse Media and the owners of the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times) had tried to stop the meeting by suing DeSantis and members of the Cabinet.
The lawsuit argued that the meeting violates Florida’s state constitution and open-government laws, which require that Cabinet sessions be open to the public, because Florida residents not in Israel wouldn’t be able to attend. Public access to the cabinet meeting was further restricted because of security concerns about the meeting’s location at the US embassy in Jerusalem. Florida reporters covering the trade mission were not allowed to take into the meeting equipment that could provide live coverage, including cellphones and laptops.
DeSantis’s office dismissed the concerns by labeling the meeting as “ceremonial.” But First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen points out:
“The fact that there even saying, ‘Oh, it’s only ceremonial, therefore we don’t have to open it to the public’ shows to me a basic misunderstanding of the Sunshine Law. This has nothing to do with the trade mission. This has everything to do with our Cabinet holding a meeting in a foreign county. And I don’t care if they were holding the meeting in Montana, I’d have the same concern…. [T]he right of access guaranteed by our constitution makes no mention of ceremonial meetings being exempt from that right of access. We don’t want our future Cabinet meetings to be held anywhere but in the state of Florida.”
Hours before the lawsuit was filed, DeSantis discussed the meeting at a networking reception in the residence of US Ambassador David Friedman. DeSantis said: “Holding a meeting of the Florida Cabinet in the embassy in Jerusalem, that is going to be a real neat thing.”
According to The Ledger, the lawsuit was dismissed “because the governor and his cabinet members could not be served.” And so, the meeting became Florida’s first ever Cabinet meeting held in a foreign country.
After the Cabinet meeting ended, DeSantis signed into law HB 741, banning “anti-Semitism” in Florida’s public schools, making it the first bill in Florida history signed on foreign soil — in Jerusalem, Israel.