With more than 100 fellow bipartisan politicians and businessmen in tow, Gov. Ron DeSantis made his first foreign trip since taking office to Israel, leading a business development mission and holding the state’s first ever Cabinet meeting on foreign soil.
He also visited a West Bank settlement, the first official trade mission beyond “the green line” by a U.S. governor, according to the Jerusalem Post.
The trip, May 25-31, was organized in conjunction with Enterprise Florida, Inc.
All three cabinet members Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried participated in the mission as did members of the legislature including Rep. Chris Sprowls, who represents North Pinellas County. Rachel Feinman, executive director of the Florida Israel Business Accelerator (FIIBA) headquartered at Tampa’s Bryan Glazer Family JCC, also was part of the large delegation.
In addition to the Cabinet meeting and visits to numerous Israeli businesses and cultural, religious and historical sites, DeSantis and cabinet members met with Benjamin Netanyahu on the day after the Israeli prime minister failed to form a governing coalition, triggering another election.
Among his activities, DeSantis prayed at the Western Wall where he placed two prayers, one for Florida’s safety this hurricane season and the other from a Panhandle girl who lost her house in Hurricane Michael, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
The governor also planted a tree at the Kennedy Peace Garden, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem and delivered the keynote address to the 2019 Israel-American Business Summit.
He established more than 20 strategic partnerships and Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) between Florida institutions and ones in Israel. The MOUs included agreements between leading universities in Florida and Israel, as well as an extension of the Florida- Israel Innovation Partnership and a new pact between Space Florida and the Israel Space Agency.
“This historic mission has been the prelude to future prosperity and partnership between Florida and Israel. We established an unprecedented number of alliances in science, business and academia. We affirmed our solidarity with Israelis and resolved to give no quarter to anti-Semitism,” DeSantis said.
“Returning to Florida, we bring with us prospects for investment, high-wage jobs, water conservation and innovative ideas to keep our schools and communities safe,” he said. “We also carry home a renewed belief that peace, freedom and democracy are essential to our quality of life and are to be championed, cherished and never taken for granted.”
When DeSantis crossed the “green line” into the West Bank, he visited an Israeli settlement in the Gush Etzion region. There, he held talks with Israeli officials about the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) movement against certain Israeli businesses. The governor criticized BDS as unfair to Israelis and heard from Israeli officials who said the movement actually does harm to Palestinians.
It was during that visit that DeSantis said he would remove Airbnb from the state’s blacklist of companies to do business with. The removal from the list came because Airbnb reversed a policy of refusing to list rental units in Israeli West Bank settlements (see related story, page 9).
Also while in the West Bank, the governor visited Ariel University and was presented with an Honorary Fellowship Award “for his dedication, leadership and commitment to the state of Israel.” Those present at the ceremony included American philanthropists and Republican mega-donors Sheldon Adelson and Dr. Miriam Adelson.
“This recognition means a lot and I am humbled to be the recipient. Let it be known that Florida will always stand with Israel, our greatest ally in the Middle East,” DeSantis said.
Among other mission highlights are:
The tour included participation of Florida A&M University, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida Institute of Technology, Florida International University, Florida State University, Full Sail University, Miami Dade College, Saint Leo University, University of Central Florida, University of Miami, University of North Florida, University of South Florida.
A number of meetings with government officials were held to strengthen the ties and synergy between Florida and Israel. In addition to his meeting with Netanyahu, he held a joint press conference with Gilad Erdan, Israel Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information. DeSantis also received a briefing from Yuvel Rotem, Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. DeSantis met with U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and the Florida delegation attended a reception at the ambassador’s residence in Tel Aviv.
More than 10 meetings and events with Israeli companies and business leaders to recruit new investments and bring high-wage jobs to Florida. Among the companies visited were Rafael, a military and defense technologies development firm; Cellebrite, a digital intelligence platform developer; Israel Discount Bank, a financial services firm with commercial services as well as private domestic and international banking; Nobactra, an agricultural research firm specializing in plant disease solutions, including citrus greening – a topic of key importance to Florida; Stemrad, which specializes in protective equipment for radiation and opened operations in Tampa after coming to the Bay area through FIBA.
Other companies visited include SpacePharma, a leading Israeli satellite agency; Nano Dimension, an electronic manufacturing company; INSIGHTEC, a leading technological medical device company; Attenti, which provides innovative solutions for law enforcement and corrections agencies; B.G. Tech, a service and maintenance company for micro-electronics. The delegation also met with Gonen Usishkin, CEO of El Al Airlines.
Roundtable talks, networking
DeSantis and Florida Department of Environmental Protection Noah Valenstein led a roundtable discussion on water challenges facing Florida and Israel technologies that are relevant.
The governor also led a roundtable talk on school safety and security, with Florida and Israeli officials participating. Legislators on the trip have said they are looking into adding safety features they saw at Israeli schools such as having only one entry point with security stationed there.
Additionally, there was a networking reception hosted by VISIT FORIDA with Israel Minister of Tourism Yariv Gideon Levin, networking lunches with Israeli business leaders and a networking dinner with business leaders hosted by Israel Bonds.
Numerous Memorandum of Understandings were signed between Florida and Israeli universities for collaboration and research. The MOUs included pledges of student and faculty exchanges and cooperative research opportunities, including in marine science, engineering, invasive species, harmful blooms, social anxiety disorders among children, medical trauma training and agriculture.
Pacts also were signed between Space Florida and the Israel Space Agency and between Space Florida and the Israel Innovation Authority.
There was also an agreement between Florida and Israel’s Ministry of Tourism to increase bilateral tourism. Yet another pact was made between the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Israel-American Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce to promote greater cooperation, strategic partnerships, and trade and investment between Israel and Florida.
Still another pact addresses collaboration between Florida and Israel in the field of emergency management.