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Presidente Petro, meet Governor DeSantis. You deserve each other

Colombian President Gustavo Petro (left) speaking at the U.N. in New York on
Richard Drew (left), Michael Dwyer
Hold My Kool-Aid: Colombian President Gustavo Petro (left) speaking at the U.N. in New York on Sept. 19, 2023; Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking in Manchester, N.H., Oct. 13, 2023.

COMMENTARY Gustavo Petro's disgraceful support of Hamas and Ron DeSantis' disgraceful demonization of Palestinians only threaten to stoke anti-Semitic and Islamophobic violence in this hemisphere.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, please meet Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Yes, you’re a left-winger, Mr. Petro, and you’re a right-winger, Mr. DeSantis. But you two have a lot in common at this moment — namely, your asinine and irresponsible remarks about the deadly tragedy unfolding in Israel this month, the kind of words that can help make spin-off violence here in this hemisphere more likely.

I addressed President Petro’s witless take in this space last week. The terrorist group Hamas had just murdered hundreds of Israeli civilians — and yet Petro called Israel’s justifiable military response to that heinous slaughter “Nazism.”

READ MORE: By failing the statesman test on Hamas, Petro fails it in Colombia, too

I pointed out that Petro and his leftist ilk certainly have reason, as does anyone, to criticize Israel’s often segregationist policies toward the Palestinians, which Hamas delusionally claims to be avenging. But Petro’s absurd attempt to obscure Hamas’ raw massacre of Jewish innocents by branding the Israeli government “Nazis” confirmed that he’s anything but a statesman.

He is, rather, the same sort of juvenile ideologue we see apologizing for Hamas’ horror on so many U.S. college campuses right now.

What’s more, Petro, as a head of state, is signaling to the vast legions of other juvenile ideologues out there that it’s OK to stay silent about the Hamas homicide, if not excuse or even encourage it. We watched Hamas fans in Colombia paint swastikas on the Israeli embassy in Bogotá last week. God knows what other worse anti-Semitic brutishness Petro’s rhetoric might stoke, especially as he doubles down on his recklessness by threatening to sever ties with Israel because the Israeli ambassador to Colombia had the affrontery to publicly criticize his affrontery.

But, as if to make sure the right wing in the Americas isn’t outdone, Republican Governor DeSantis over the weekend answered Petro’s rants by saying: hold my Islamophobic Kool-Aid.

What other hate crimes might be in the offing on this side of the Atlantic if political opportunists like Petro and DeSantis keep pounding the bellows?

DeSantis, whose presidential primary campaign is sputtering, went Full Anti-Muslim Monty in yet another desperate bid to poach voters from former President Donald Trump’s MAGA base. He screamed that the U.S. should not take in any of the Palestinians, who are mostly Muslim, who’ve been made refugees by this new, brutal war in Gaza. The reason, he ludicrously declared: they’re “all anti-Semitic.”

It was an astonishing echo of DeSantis’ loutish pronouncement during a gubernatorial visit to Israel in 2019, when he said all Palestinians “teach their kids in school to hate Jews, to hate Israel.”

It’s bad enough to demonize all Palestinians wholesale as anti-Semites — and, in turn, cheerleaders of Hamas’ terror. That's as baldly false and bigoted as labeling every Israeli a “Nazi” who hates Muslims and Palestinians.

Unprepared for statesmanship

But what made DeSantis’ bombast doubly disturbing is that he disgorged it on the same weekend a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy was viciously stabbed to death outside Chicago, allegedly by his family’s landlord — whose Islamophobia, police say, had grown deranged watching news coverage of the Israel conflict. The boy’s mother survived the knife attack, during which the landlord reportedly shouted, “You Muslims must die!”

Palestinians wounded in an explosion wait in a Gaza City hospital, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023.
Abed Khaled
Palestinians wounded in an explosion wait in a Gaza City hospital, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023.

Again: what other hate crimes might be in the offing on this side of the Atlantic if political opportunists like DeSantis keep pounding the bellows?

Like Petro’s outburst, DeSantis’ blast is a reminder that Florida’s governor is less than prepared or fit for the statesmanship a presidency requires. DeSantis already warned us of that earlier this year when, once again hoping to woo MAGA nativists, he dismissed Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine as nothing more than a little “territorial dispute” that was of no interest to the U.S. (He later walked the remarks back under GOP pressure.)

I congratulate DeSantis’ effort this week to charter flights to bring home Florida Jews stuck in the middle of the Israel chaos. Still, just as Petro’s posturing seems less about championing Palestinians than about burnishing his leftist “revolutionary” street cred in Latin America, DeSantis’ crusade feels less about defending Jews — this is a governor, after all, who’s loath to condemn neo-Nazi rallies in his state — than about catering to evangelical Trump voters who consider the Israeli state a necessary Biblical actor in the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Either way, as the war in Israel intensifies, we over here don’t deserve the spectacle of Petro and DeSantis. They, however, do deserve each other.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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