Hundreds of evacuees from Israel land in Florida during rescue mission
Gov. Ron DeSantis was on hand Sunday night as more than 270 evacuees from Israel landed at Tampa International Airport.
They were part of a mission by Tampa-based Project Dynamo and Florida officials to rescue Americans from the war zone, according to a press release from DeSantis' office. Another seven people landed in Orlando.
State agencies provided the evacuees with resources. Following an executive order by DeSantis, the Florida Department of Emergency Management is sending medical supplies, hygiene products, clothing and children’s toys to Israel.
Florida officials are planning more flights to deliver supplies to Israel and rescue Floridians who are stranded there.
“We have a dedicated team of volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure the well-being of Americans caught in crisis situations all over the world,” Bryan Stern, Project Dynamo CEO and founder, said in the release. “It’s truly heart-wrenching to watch the destruction unfolding in Israel."
At the same time, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the United States should not take in any Palestinian refugees if they flee the Gaza Strip because they “are all anti-Semitic." He also dismissed international entreaties for Israel to provide clean running water and utilities to the 2.3 million civilians in the territory.
DeSantis' comments were a striking departure from the public stand taken by U.S. officials, including some of his fellow Republicans, who draw distinctions between the aims of the Palestinian people and those of Hamas. The militant group has ruled has Gaza since 2007 and launched an attack against Israel last weekend.
DeSantis' endorsement of such tactics comes as he has advocated hard-line policies as a White House candidate. He suggested that not providing water or other services would persuade Hamas to release the hostages it has taken during its incursion.
“You have Israelis being held hostage, as well as Americans being held hostage, but I don’t think they are under an obligation to be providing water and these utilities while those hostages are being held. Hamas should return those hostages before any discussions are had,” DeSantis told CBS’s “Face The Nation.”
The United Nations, aid groups and Israeli human rights groups have beseeched Israel to allow water and emergency deliveries of fuel to flow into the Gaza Strip. Medics in the region are warning that thousands could die as hospitals run low on fuel and other basic supplies, and desperate Palestinians are trying to escape northern Gaza before a potential Israeli ground campaign.
The latest Israel-Hamas war has already claimed more than 3,600 lives.
DeSantis' comments underscored how the Florida governor is embracing hard-right rhetoric as he tries to gain ground on former President Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner for the 2024 presidential nomination.
DeSantis first suggested the U.S. should not accept refugees from Gaza while speaking at a campaign event in Iowa on Saturday and argued that they “are all antisemitic."
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, a GOP candidate, said on CNN's “State of the Union” that “there are so many of these people who want to be free from this terrorist rule. They want to be free from all of that. And America’s always been sympathetic to the fact that you can separate civilians from terrorists. And that’s what we have to do.”
Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog, also drew distinctions between the Palestinian people and Hamas. "Our enemy is Hamas. It’s not the Palestinian people. It’s not the innocent civilians," he said on CNN.
DeSantis defended his remarks during the TV interview, suggesting that Hamas' rule of Gaza — opposed by many Palestinians — meant none should be accepted as refugees into the U.S.
“The U.S. should not be absorbing any of those. I think the culture — so they elected Hamas, let’s just be clear about that. Not everyone’s a member of Hamas, most probably aren’t. But they did elect Hamas,” he said of people in Gaza.
He described what he said is “a toxic culture” in Gaza. "I think if we were to import large numbers of those to the United States, I think it would increase antisemitism in this country, and I think it would increase anti-Americanism in this country,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis has been eager to show he's been focused on the conflict since the Israel-Hamas war started. Last week, he signed an executive order for the Florida Division of Emergency Management to charter flights for Florida residents stranded in Israel during the war, as well as deliver supplies to Israel.
DeSantis has also surged law enforcement resources upon request to prevent violence at demonstrations and protect Jewish schools and synagogues. He directed FDLE and FHP to work with the Attorney General’s Office and issue memos to law enforcement and Florida universities reminding them of their responsibility to protect the Jewish community from threats and unlawful harassment. Florida will not tolerate hate or violence towards the Jewish community.
If you or someone you know is a Florida citizen who is unable to leave Israel due to the current situation, visit FloridaDisaster.Org/Israel to fill out the form.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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