State Politics

Fla. Cabinet recognizes Jerusalem as Israeli capital, warns Airbnb over West Bank policy

Attorney General Ashley Moody, Deputy Consul General Guy Gilady from the Consulate General of Israel in Miami, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried pose for a photo before the Florida Cabinet meeting on Jan. 29, 2018.
Attorney General Ashley Moody, Deputy Consul General Guy Gilady from the Consulate General of Israel in Miami, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried pose for a photo before the Florida Cabinet meeting on Jan. 29, 2018. sgross@miamiherald.com

The Florida Cabinet passed a symbolic resolution Tuesday, declaring that the state officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The resolution was brought to the Cabinet by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, whose office last year pledged an increase in the state’s holdings of Israeli bonds. He said he hopes to make a statement that “the interests of Israel are the interests of Florida.”

Patronis added that while there was much criticism around President Donald Trump’s decision in December 2017 to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump made a statement for the nation. Trump recognized the city as the capital of Israel and reversed nearly seven decades of American foreign policy, and Patronis proposed on Jan. 22 that Florida do the same. Palestinian leaders have hoped for decades that someday East Jerusalem would become the capital of a Palestinian state.

“While our nation has been criticized, we’ve made it clear that we remain close with our allies in the Middle East,” he said.

While Florida government has little to no sway over Israeli diplomacy, the state has a substantial Jewish population, estimated somewhere around 630,000.

Topics regarding Israeli diplomacy came up during the gubernatorial campaign. DeSantis once even made it a point to call himself someone who could be “the most pro-Israel governor in the country.”

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On campaign stops, DeSantis told stories about how lobbying the president and traveling to Israel for the dedication of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem was one his greatest accomplishments in Congress.

In a battle for Jewish voters, DeSantis accused his opponent, former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, of supporting the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel because he accepted support from Dream Defenders, a Miami-based group that has backed the boycott. He denied supporting BDS in a statement then.

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“BDS is nothing more than warmed-over anti-Semitism,” DeSantis told a crowd during his campaign. “I would never seek nor accept support political or otherwise from a group that supports a boycott of Israel.”

On June 30, Gillum gave an interview in Miami where he called Donald Trump’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “a provocation by the president that was unnecessary.”

At the meeting, Nikki Fried, the first Jewish woman on Florida’s Cabinet, said the resolution was symbolic of a “lifelong devotion” between the states.

“As a member of the Jewish community, this resolution is near and dear to my heart,” she said.

The resolution comes soon after an announcement from the governor, who said last week that Airbnb’s decision not to list properties in the Israeli West Bank may violate a state law that prohibits Florida from doing business with companies that boycott Israel. He said the company may face sanctions here. The Cabinet voted Tuesday to put Airbnb on a “scrutinized companies” list, giving the company a 90 day period to correct their policy in the West Bank.

“States like Florida are stepping up and saying if we allow Israel to be singled out, it’s only going to snowball,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “It’s a modern day David versus Goliath story. The Middle East already tried to suffocate Israel in its crib.”

At the meeting the Deputy Consul General of Israel from Miami thanked the Cabinet for recognizing Israel but also asked that they continue to address the AirBnb controversy.

“We, like you, abhor discrimination in all its forms,” Guy Gilady said. “Under your leadership, we see a deeper understanding regarding the values our nations share.”

Representatives for AirBnb were also at the meeting, but did not speak. They issued a statement after the meeting:

“We unequivocally reject and oppose the BDS movement and are disappointed by today’s vote,” they said. “There are over 20,000 Airbnb hosts in Israel who open their doors and showcase the best of Israeli hospitality to guests from around the world, which boosts local families, businesses and communities. Our community of hosts in Israel has already welcomed more than 1 million guests and we will continue to invest in Israel.”

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