Netanyahu appears to downplay hosting DeSantis during governor’s Israel trip

PM met with Florida governor in Jerusalem; PM’s office issued no announcements or photos amid speculation he’s avoiding angering Biden, Trump

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, April 28, 2023. (Courtesy of the Executive Office of the Governor)
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, April 28, 2023. (Courtesy of the Executive Office of the Governor)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in Jerusalem during the latter’s high-profile trip to Israel this week, but his office issued no statements or photographs from the meeting, and it was not immediately reported in Israeli media.

Both Ynet and the Haaretz daily speculated that Netanyahu didn’t publicize the meeting for fear of angering US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and former US president Donald Trump, DeSantis’s main Republican rival in the run-up to the 2024 nomination.

The meeting was reportedly held on Thursday. The governor’s office released a short announcement on Friday saying the two met during DeSantis’ “historic trade mission” to Israel, touting the “strong relationship with Israel, both economically and culturally.”

“Bilateral trade between Florida and Israel reached $651 million in 2022, demonstrating the growing partnership between the two countries,” the governor’s office said.

DeSantis, who is widely believed to be planning to toss his hat in the ring for the Republican presidential nomination, also tweeted a photo of the two shaking hands, writing that it was “always great to see Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

According to the Ynet news outlet, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, Israel’s former envoy to Washington, and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi also attended the meeting.

At a Thursday press conference in Jerusalem, DeSantis stressed the importance of the US-Israel relationship and accused the Biden administration of harming those ties.

Netanyahu has been on shaky ground with the Biden administration amid his hardline government’s push to overhaul the judiciary, a move the US has strongly warned against.

Last month, Biden urged Netanyahu to “walk away” from the bid, saying he was “very concerned” about the health of Israeli democracy, and warning that Israel “cannot continue down this road.” Biden also gave an emphatic, “No,” when asked whether he would be inviting Netanyahu to the White House, adding: “Not in the near term.”

Netanyahu has also yet to get an invitation to the White House and has instructed all cabinet ministers to avoid traveling to the US, and to avoid meeting US government officials if they do, until that invite clears.

Biden’s announcement last Tuesday that he’ll be seeking re-election will likely further complicate efforts to schedule a Netanyahu visit to the US, with domestic political considerations playing an even larger role in foreign policy decisions as November 2024 approaches.

As for Trump, Netanyahu may be trying to steer clear of further angering the former president who is reportedly still miffed about the Israeli leader’s congratulations to Biden after he won the US presidency in 2020, elections Trump still claims were “stolen.”

Trump refused to concede defeat, making unsubstantiated allegations of serious fraud and vowing to take his case to the courts, actions that ultimately encouraged his followers to storm the US Capitol building in an attempt to stop the certification of Biden’s election victory in early 2021.

Trump’s apparent anger came despite Netanyahu being one of the last major world leaders to congratulate Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Ahead of the 2024 nomination, Trump has ramped up his attacks on DeSantis, who has been trailing the former president in early polls. During his trip to Israel last week, the Florida governor faced questions about losing ground to Trump and being taken to court by Walt Disney World.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis attends the Jerusalem Post Conference, held in the Museum of Tolerance, Jerusalem, April 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

DeSantis has been eyeing a presidential campaign launch once the Florida state legislature wraps up its session next month. As that moment nears, public familiarity with the governor is improving. Just 24% of US adults say they don’t know enough to rate him in the April AP-NORC poll, compared with 30% in October and 42% in July 2021.

Still, that increased familiarity has translated almost entirely to increased negative views toward DeSantis: 45% have an unfavorable view of him, up slightly from 40% in October and 30% in July 2021. Overall favorable ratings for DeSantis have largely remained the same: 31% say they have a favorable opinion of him in the new poll. Unfavorable ratings, however, are concentrated among Democrats.

Among Republicans, 63% now say they have a favorable view of DeSantis, a tick up from 57% in October. The shift is concentrated among moderate and liberal Republicans, who have grown more familiar with him.

With that shift, favorable ratings of DeSantis (63%) and Trump (68%) are largely similar among Republicans. Trump’s unfavorable ratings are slightly higher than DeSantis’ (30% vs 20%), while more say they are unfamiliar with DeSantis than Trump. Overall, about half of Republicans say they have a favorable view of both men.

In his two-day trip to Israel last week, DeSantis met with President Isaac Herzog, spoke at a gala event organized by The Jerusalem Post and the Museum of Tolerance in the capital, and was spotted dining with Israeli-American billionaire Miriam Adelson at a venue in Jerusalem.

She was among several major Republican donors at the dinner hosted Wednesday by Larry Mizel, an American businessman who helped found the Museum of Tolerance where the meal was being held. Mizel was the finance chairman for Trump’s presidential campaign office in Colorado during the 2016 race.

DeSantis sat in between Mizel and Adelson, according to Axios, which broke the story.

Miriam and her late husband, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, backed DeSantis during his successful 2018 gubernatorial run, donating $500,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC.

DeSantis is likely seeking Adelson’s support once again, as he is expected to announce his candidacy for president in the coming weeks, though he faces an uphill battle.

Adelson is a longtime admirer of Trump’s former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who has already thrown her hat in the 2024 race.

Tax documents uncovered by POLITICO last year revealed that Adelson was among several major GOP donors who had been donating to a nonprofit that Haley established to lay the groundwork for a 2024 presidential bid.

Both Adelsons donated $250,000 each to Haley’s nonprofit, Stand For America, Inc.

Miriam Adelson, who has become one of the most sought-after GOP donors since her husband’s death, also donated $5,000 to Haley’s PAC in 2021.

The Adelsons were also Trump’s biggest donors in the 2020 election, writing checks for more than $90 million on the Republican incumbent’s behalf. Trump launched his re-election bid last November.

But less than two months after the August 2022 POLITICO story, the news site reported that Adelson has told potential Republican candidates for the 2024 presidential election that she plans to stay neutral during the GOP primary battle.

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