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Trip Builds To Cabinet Climax After Day Of Legal Wrangling

TEL AVIV – A marathon Tuesday of partnership signings was followed by a victory lap at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Tel Aviv with the anticipation of a celebratory Cabinet meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem today.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, leader of a trade mission of nearly 100 people to Israel this week, was greeted at a networking reception as a conquering hero by U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, who said “Israel has no greater friend in all the 50 governor’s mansions than Ron DeSantis.”

This was the first visit DeSantis made to the residence, saying he “was always trying to move the embassy to Jerusalem.”

Both men touted the accomplishment of President Trump’s decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last year, a move that leaves the embassy with minimal WiFi and room to hold about 30 people. 

DeSantis touted the day’s achievements, signing agreements between several U.S. and Israeli universities, and renewing an agreement between Space Florida and the Florida-Israel Innovation Authority.

“I have lost count of the number of memorandums of understanding we’ve signed,” DeSantis said. “I think it’s an extraordinary time.”

An ebullient DeSantis said he was excited to be holding a meeting of the Florida Cabinet in the Embassy in Jerusalem, even as a lawsuit was filed by the First Amendment Foundation to try to stop the meeting. “That’s going to be a really neat thing.”

All the celebration hung on the uncertainty of whether an emergency injunction to stop the Cabinet meeting could be executed since the Governor and Cabinet cannot be served at a distance of 6,500 miles. The First Amendment Foundation, which was joined by newspapers across the state in the lawsuit, was still engaged in last-minute legal appeals. But in a sign that the meeting would go on, DeSantis sent out a media advisory Tuesday evening promoting the Cabinet meeting.

DeSantis said he would be signing an anti-Semitism bill after the Cabinet meeting, introduced by Rep. Randy Fine of Melbourne Beach, “one of the only Jewish Republicans in the Legislature, maybe the only one.”

He added that Florida’s educational institutions “will not be engaged in BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) or anti-Semitism tropes.”

The day began with a drive through the old town of Jaffa to the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, founded by late president Shimon Peres in 1996.

After a tour of the Center and its Innovation Hall and virtual reality capsule, the governor oversaw the renewal of an agreement between Space Florida and the Israel Innovation Authority.

DeSantis said he was excited to see the possibilities for technology partnerships with Israel for space, agriculture, and water resources.

“There are a whole host of things we can learn from each other,” DeSantis said. “I look forward to getting these agreements signed and achieving even more for the state of Florida and the state of Israel.”

The agreement also expand the partnership to meet the challenges both Florida and Israel face in agriculture, clean water and cybersecurity, said Frank DiBello, the president and CEO of Space Florida.

“It’s been highly successful, and it will bring an additional range of technologies to benefit both countries,” he said.

DiBello discussed many of the developments in private space flight technology, with four companies building the next generation of human-operated space vehicles.

"Next year we will have four human rated vehicles that will fly out of Florida,” DiBello said.

He also talked about the partnership finding ways to meet the “insatiable demand for bandwidth,” and the 2 billion people in the world still unserved by Internet.

There was also an agreement signing between Florida and Israel emergency management officials.

Jared Moskowitz, director of Florida’s division of emergency management, toured the Gaza strip and the emergency management center there. Last week, Israeli first responders dealt with wildfires similar to the types that occur in Florida.

With the official start of hurricane season looming in days, he reflected on how one of his key takeaways centered on communication during events that threaten lives or safety.

“They blast things out to cell phones in the area,” Moskowitz said. “That’s something that’s obviously different for our culture — in emergency situations making sure people are aware, not optionally but mandatory, so that they have the information to help make decisions. That’s something obviously that we’ll continue to look at.”

The agreement he signed will actually lay the groundwork for Israeli emergency management officials to come to Florida’s aid when it has a major disaster.

After that, the lawyer-lobbying firm of Greenberg Traurig hosted a networking business lunch, where lawmakers, university faculty and business leaders chatted about the technology they just heard about. Several were pleased that some of the agreements would have an immediate impact.

“There are applications we can begin right now,” said James Sullivan, head of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Institute. He was excited that the MOU his university signed with Haifa University will have immediate results in the field of marine sciences. “That’s what we want, a substantive MOU.”

Florida A&M University signed an agreement with Haifa to create a mutual study-abroad program for students. “We will be able to expose our students to the world and have their students experience our culture, too,” FAMU President Larry Robinson said.

A trip to Tel Aviv University for more partnership agreement signing ceremonies was attended by a group of 59 college students touring Israel with AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as part of its “Mission Allies” trip for non-Jewish students.

Landon Coles, 18, a rising sophomore at the University of Miami who grew up in Tallahassee, said he was grateful for the opportunity to tour Israel and meet with leaders and ambassadors to learn about the issues facing Israel.

“The most important thing to recognize is that a strong and healthy relationship with Israel is a bipartisan issue,” Coles said. “Whoever you voted for, you can cast your vote aside and support this issue.”

Jeffrey Schweers is accompanying Gov. Ron DeSantis and his 90-plus member delegation on his Israeli business development mission this week as a pool reporter for the Florida Society of News Editors. Schweers will provide regular reports and updates from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for Florida’s newspapers. Follow him on Twitter for updates @jeffschweers. Schweers, a reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat, can be reached at jschweers@tallahassee.com

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