DeSantis to travel to Israel ahead of likely 2024 White House bid
By James Oliphant
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, expected to be a top contender for the 2024 U.S. Republican presidential nomination, will travel to Israel next month as the country is being riven by a crisis that has led to widespread protests.
The trip, which is being billed by DeSantis’ office as a trade mission, follows a longstanding tradition for Republicans seeking the White House but comes at a particularly volatile moment.
Israel has been beset by unprecedented protests and worker strikes against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition to overhaul the judiciary. Netanyahu on Monday said he would delay the overhaul in order to open talks with the plan’s opponents.
DeSantis, who likely will announce a presidential run in the coming weeks, will speak on April 27 to a crowd of about 400 attendees, including about 120 U.S. Jewish philanthropists, according to a release from the Jerusalem Post and the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem, which are sponsoring the event.
“At a time of unnecessarily strained relations between Jerusalem and Washington, Florida serves as a bridge between the American and Israeli people,” DeSantis said in the release.
As Florida's governor, DeSantis has vowed to be a staunch ally of Israel and led a trade delegation there in 2019. But his recent sojourn into foreign policy as a potential presidential hopeful has been problematic.
Earlier this month, he dismissed the war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute,” earning criticism from some fellow Republicans. He subsequently took a tougher stance toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, labeling him a “war criminal” in an interview.
The wobble concerned some prominent donors in the party who were hopeful DeSantis can derail former President Donald Trump’s bid for another term. [L1N36005H]
The White House said it had no comment on DeSantis’ plans, while maintaining administration officials have been regularly in touch with the Israeli government during the crisis.
DeSantis has said he supported the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in 2018 and has been a strong supporter of Netanyahu. In a speech to Jewish conservatives last November, he referred to Israel-held territories in the West Bank as "disputed" not "occupied" in contravention of official U.S. policy.
DeSantis is widely expected to enter the 2024 race once the Florida Legislature concludes its current session in early May.
(Reporting by James Oliphant, additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Alistair Bell)