A man speaks against a pink and blue background.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a conference titled “Celebrate the Faces of Israel” at Jerusalem’s Museum of Tolerance, on April 27, 2023.

(Photo: Maya Alleruzzo/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

DeSantis and Netanyahu Are Anti-Democratic Brothers-in-Arms

DeSantis’s vision for Florida and for the United States, and the Netanyahu government’s vision for itself, couldn’t be more compatible.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, ahead of his expected presidential run, flew all the way to Israel to give the keynote address at an event at the Museum of Tolerance April 27.

A press release announcing the speech said he was going to “introduce changemakers to those who embrace tolerance and acceptance.”

Though it’s hard to believe, this is actually not a joke.

DeSantis, who is well-known for his lack of tolerance (and that is being extremely generous) and for leading Florida down a path of breath-taking anti-democratic measures and extreme repression arrived in Israel just as the reality of Israel’s unjust system—and its intolerance (again, that’s extremely generous)—couldn’t be more visible.

What DeSantis wants for Florida, and indeed for the U.S. given his national aspirations, is what Israel’s leaders are also committed to: further cementing an authoritarian, anti-democratic, repressive government that has absolutely no regard for human rights, international law, or justice.

For four months hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been protesting Israel’s increasingly repressive actions and policies, and specifically the government plan under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to overhaul its judiciary. As Palestinians and many others have made clear, they should also be protesting (and some are) Israel’s ongoing inhumane treatment of its Palestinian citizens and those living under its military occupation without the most basic of rights.

In fact, many of Israel’s fundamental laws and policies are antithetical to equal rights—and always have been. Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights organizations have documented the inhumanity and injustice of Israel’s apartheid system (which echoes what Palestinians have been saying for decades).

The Museum of Tolerance in downtown Jerusalem, where DeSantis spoke at a “Faces of Israel” conference sponsored by The Jerusalem Post, was built on top of the Mamilla cemetery, an ancient Muslim burial ground and historic site believed to date back to the seventh century. Years ago the Simon Wiesenthal Center, flexing its fundraising muscle, decided to build a version of its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in the heart of Jerusalem. It could only do so once a section of the cemetery was destroyed and desecrated. Another brutal irony.

This is not the governor’s first trip to Israel in his official capacity. He chose Israel as the setting of his very first cabinet meeting in April 2019. DeSantis proclaimed with pride during his gubernatorial campaign that he would be the “most pro-Israel governor in America.” His close relationships with, and vociferous support for, Israel’s violent settler movement and its government are a testament to that commitment.

DeSantis boasts of how important to him his relationship with Israel continues to be. What he wants for Florida, and indeed for the U.S. given his national aspirations, is what Israel’s leaders are also committed to: further cementing an authoritarian, anti-democratic, repressive government that has absolutely no regard for human rights, international law, or justice.

The “tolerance” DeSantis intended to applaud in Israel, his repressive notions of “freedom,” like Israel’s, seem to require that ugly histories of racism, settler colonialism, and injustice (rooted in white supremacy in the case of the U.S. and Jewish supremacy in the case of Israel) be whitewashed and built over.

His relentless assaults on, and pushing of legislation that harms, students, trans and queer people, immigrants, Black people, and anyone concerned about the rights of all human beings to live in dignity go hand in glove with his support for Israel’s denial of rights to the Palestinian people.

The threat posed by DeSantis and by his counterparts in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, cannot be minimized. DeSantis and Netanyahu met during the governor's visit. They are bulldozers and have no shame.

But, at the same time, the resistance is strong and principled, and this cannot be underestimated.

People from Florida to Palestine/Israel are fighting with conviction to resist the tide of fascism and to say no to repression and to inhumane and anti-democratic policies and actions. Immigrant rights, racial justice, education, and other groups—through walk-outs, protesting in the streets, opposing draconian legislation, and building powerful, interconnected resistance movements—are standing up to DeSantis’s full-fledged attacks on trans and queer people, Black people, and all people of color, to his censorship, and to his attempt to destroy public education and to erase the histories and lived experiences of marginalized students.

Meanwhile, Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian justice continue to organize globally, resisting in every way possible, including calling for boycott of Israel until it complies with basic principles of human rights and international law and ceases to torture and kill Palestinians, demolish their land, steal their homes, and deny them their fundamental rights to freedom, justice, and dignity.

In positioning himself as a contender in the upcoming presidential election and working to secure his base, DeSantis is doing acrobatics to outflank Trump in his support for Israel’s brutal government. This is not a stretch for him because his vision for Florida and for the United States, and the Netanyahu government’s vision for itself, couldn’t be more compatible—or, I might add, dangerous.

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