JERUSALEM, Israel — Today, Governor Ron DeSantis delivered the keynote address at the Celebrate the Faces Israel event held at the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. The Governor spoke about his long track record of support for the U.S.-Israel alliance throughout his time in public service and laid out his vision for the future of the region and America’s role in the world.
All pictures and videos may be used courtesy of the Executive Office of the Governor.
Read the Governor’s speech below or watch here.
Casey and I are really honored to be in the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish people, the great city of Jerusalem to celebrate the seventy fifth anniversary of Israel’s independence.
I want to thank Larry Mizel for inviting me and congratulations on this great project here: the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. What a remarkable achievement.
I’d also like to thank Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, we able to meet and talk, and I appreciate him making time for me. Mayor Leone, thank you for your comments. Great to see. I would also like to recognize our former great US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Thank you, David. And Casey and I’s friend, the great Doctor Miriam Adelson. Thank you so much for being here.
Israel is more than three thousand years old and yet seventy-five years young.
Throughout two thousand years of exile in dispersion of the Jewish people, the bond between the Jewish people in this holy land was never severed. Both the Balfour declaration and the British mandate recognize the historic connection of the Jewish people with the land of Israel and acknowledge the compelling basis for reconstituting their national home right here in the Holy Land.
Nevertheless, when David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the modern state of Israel seventy five years ago, he did so knowing that the odds were long.
How could a ragtag group of sabras, refugees and holocaust survivors possibly prevail against powerful Arab armies determined to snuff out the Jewish state in its infancy? The odds were about as long as the odds that a young shepherd boy armed with rocks and a slingshot could slay a giant. But just as David defeated goliath, the newly minted Israelis beat the odds, won their independence, and preserved their right to self-determination.
Israel’s victory meant the long-standing dream had become reality- a national homeland for the Jewish people in the land of Israel. Now Winston Churchill noted, the establishment of the Jewish state was “an event in world history to be viewed in the perspective, not of a generation or a century, but in the perspective of a thousand, two thousand, or even three thousand years.”
That Churchill continued as a standard of temporal values or time values which seem very much out of accord with the perpetual click clack of our rapidly challenging moods and of the age in which we live. This, Churchill concluded, is an event in world history. And Winston Churchill was right. Israel’s rebirth has been a momentous development in world history.
Reconstituting the Jewish state, though, was just the initial challenge. Maintaining a democracy in the heart of the Middle East has been no easy task and Israel has faced perhaps more challenges than any country has in the ensuing seventy-five years after independence. We saw the momentous victory in the Six-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967.
We saw a war of attrition waged by Egypt and other Arab states in the ensuing years.
We saw a war on Yom Kippur.
We saw Israel eliminate Iraq’s nuclear reactor.
We’ve seen Intifadas and the increase in rise of Palestinian Arab terrorism.
We’ve seen the targeting of Israel by international organizations and by movements such as Boycott, Divest and Sanction, BDS
And, of course, hanging over all this is the specter of a nuclear armed Iran, hell bent on the complete destruction of the Jewish state.
And yet, through all these challenges, Israel stands tall as a beacon of freedom in a troubled region, an engine of economic growth and opportunity and center of innovation and technology, that is the envy of the world.
Israel is also one of America’s most valued and trusted allies. Maintaining a strong Israel relationship has been a priority for me during my time in elected office, and I know it’s been a priority for the overwhelming majority of the American people.
Now the United States was the first nation to recognize the independence of Israel and President Truman did so within minutes of Israel’s own declaration.
Our alliance with Israel rests on unique cultural and religious affinities,
The Judeo-Christian values that trace back thousands of years to the Holy Land and which have been essential to the American experiment.
When I was a US congressman, I represented the city of Saint Augustine in Florida, which is the oldest city in continuous operation in the United States, from the 1500s.
I used to think to myself man our country was founded in 1776. This was two hundred years plus prior to that. How historic, how old!
Well, when you walk here in Israel, that vantage point changes because we’re talking about thousands of years, all the way back to the beginning of recorded history. History that the vast majority of Americans have familiarity with.
I can tell your story about my wife and I, actually it was her second trip with me to Israel. I was a US congressman at the time.
We did not yet have kids, and so one of the things that Casey did when we were visiting the Sea of Galilee was to take up empty bottle of water and fill it up with water from the Sea of Galilee, so that when we did have kids, we would use that water from here in Israel to baptize our kids.
Our first daughter was born in 201. No problem, we used the water. Our son was born in 2018, as I was running for Governor. So we decided to wait till after the election and do his baptism in the Governor’s residence in Tallahassee, following my swearing-in as Governor. In January of 2019, we used the water for that.
Unbeknownst to us, there’s people that come clean up after when you’re in a Governor’s residence. We weren’t used to that in our own home and all they saw was a half used bottle of water.
They didn’t know the difference, and so the water gets spilled out and we no longer no longer had any. However, a week or two into my administration, we were down in Boca Raton at a synagogue- and I had announced that we, while we didn’t have another bun in the oven, we did not have any more water from the Sea of Galilee.
Within 24 hours, there were people here in Israel digging into the sea of galilee, and I was sent, all the way from Israel, this beautiful big glass jar filled with water from the Sea of Galilee that sat on my desk in the Governor’s office in Tallahassee until our third child was born and baptized, and we used that water to do it.
But just think about it. What other country in this in the whole world could you have a story like that?
You can’t. The history and the connection are simply incomparable and that’s one of the reasons why, when I was a US Congressman, I was an outspoken proponent, an advocate of relocating our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
When we were trying to cajole the previous administration to do it, I actually launched a very small delegation over here. We looked at a bunch of different sites. We had a big press conference to announce that this was going to happen.
We were confident, and there was a plethora of possibilities to be able to do. I chaired a major congressional hearing in the fall of 2017 leading up to the decision, probably the most attended congressional hearing of my congressional career and both sides of the aisle acknowledged that this is something that needed to be done.
Part of the thing that really was compelling to me was, you see how important these religious sites are to people, not just Jews, but to Christians and Muslims, and I can tell you, with Israeli sovereignty over the city of Jerusalem, people have the ability to practice their religion freely. They have the ability to visit sites freely.
That would just factually not be true if that were in other hands- and so we thought it was very important for that.
We also just thought it was important to honor the historical record. Jerusalem is in fact, going back thousands of years, the eternal capital of the Jewish people. US policy should recognize the truth.
The US and Israel many common interests. We also have many common enemies.
There is perhaps no adversary more hostile to both Israel and the United States than the Islamic regime in Iran.
As a US Navy officer, I was deployed to Iraq during the Iraq war.
At the time we were stationed in places like Felusia and Ramadi.
These are Sunni Arab areas in the western part of Iraq, where really the Al Qaeda in Iraq movement had started. That was really the task to put that down, and US forces did a very good job of doing that.
What I noticed as that deployment went on is that the overwhelming majority of the casualties that we were starting to see in Iraq at that time, were not in Sunni Arab areas that was not at the hands of al Qaeda in Iraq.
It was at the hands of Shia militia that were funded and controlled by the regime in Iran.
They were responsible for killing hundreds of US service members during the Iraq campaign, and, of course, were responsible for killing hundreds of US marines in Beirut in 1983 when they bombed the Marine Corps barracks.
Since its inception in 1979, the Islamic regime in Iran has viewed the United States as its foremost enemy and Israel probably close behind, and so we share that.
If you look at this, the strategic challenges that we see in this region, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons creates a risk unlike you have not seen in this region.
Their ideology, an apocalyptic ideology, combined with the ability to use humanity’s worst weapons, represents an existential threat to the state of Israel, and it represents a threat to the United States of America and I’m just proud that as a congressman, like many of you know, we saw through this many years ago when they tried to do this Iranian nuclear deal.
We said that all it would do is empower Iran and guess what happened?
They got billions and billions of dollars flooded into their coffers. What did they use that money to do? Did they make the citizen lives better in Iran? Of course not.
They used that to fund terrorism all around the Middle East, and so we opposed it.
The deal failed and I think it’s important going forward, we learn from that and learn that you cannot approach them in a way that is going to empower the regime. You must hold the regime accountable and that’s what US policy should do.
The US has been proud to stand with Israel in the face of Israel being singled out for unprecedented and unfair international criticism and political attacks.
Since 2015, the UN has passed 125 condemnatory resolutions against Israel, but only 55 such resolutions for the entire rest of the world.
How could you possibly justify that type of action?
If you look at the movement to boycott ,divest and sanction the state of Israel, so called BDS, we in Florida have stood against that from day one of our administration.
It’s fine to criticize policy of any government. You can criticize Israel policy. You can criticize the state of Israel, but when your focus is only on one Jewish state, and, you hold them up to a different standard than you hold up every other country in the world and indeed, when you work to excuse bad conduct from so many rogue regimes throughout the rest of the world, when you have that frame of reference, that is anti-Semitism. You are targeting the one Jewish state for disfavored treatment.
In Florida we made it very clear even before I took office, this was when AirBNB was going to penalize folks here in Israel, and we made it very clear that that’s not going to stand with the state of Florida.
We made clear that in Florida, BDS is DOA.
We proceeded to make sure that our pension funds would not be investing in any of these companies. So we put AirBnB on our a disfavored companies list and guess what? They reversed the policy. What we did worked.
Florida led the way on combating the scourge of anti-Semitism.
My first year as governor, when we actually were here on our trade mission, I signed legislation to combat anti-Semitism in our public universities and that’s been a huge problem throughout our country.
In Florida we treat anti-Semitism the same way we treat racism.
If it’s not appropriate to attack someone on the basis their race, which it is not, it should not also be okay to engage in anti-Semitic tropes.
In Florida, we’ve stood on the side of combating anti-Semitism, as was mentioned, we’ve provided millions and millions of dollars since I’ve been governor for security at Jewish day schools.
We understand there’s threats and we’re not going to let the bad guys win when it comes to our schools.
We’ve also led a nationwide effort to enhance education standards for the Holocaust.
We funded millions and millions of dollars for Holocaust museums throughout Florida.
It may not be quite at the level that you see here in Jerusalem, but it’s important that we do that.
I was able to give the Florida medal of freedom to a man named Ben Ferencz, who was then the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials.
He was a hundred and three years old at the time, he’s recently passed away, but he led an extraordinary life.
When you see somebody like Ben Ferencz, you realize the importance of Holocaust education.
The generation that survived the holocaust is, as the years go by, is passing from the scenes. It is not going to be too long before we’re not going to have any living, breathing, firsthand accounts of the horrors of the holocaust.
I believe people that forget the history are doomed to repeat it and when we say never again, we mean never again.
In Florida, we’ve also embraced the freedom of parents of all faiths to choose the best school for their children, but that includes Jewish parents, who want their kids to get a Jewish education. You get scholarships in the state of Florida, and you can make that decision as a parent to send your child to Jewish day school.
We’re proud in Florida of the strong economic ties that we have with the state of Israel.
As was mentioned, we did a historic trade mission in 2019, where we brought businesses, folks from our universities. It was really an unprecedented mobilization.
We did a cabinet meeting at the US embassy in Jerusalem.
We signed our legislation to combating anti-Semitism.
We visited the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria.
We even held a public event at Ariel university.
We brought the delegation for prayer at the Western Wall. The only thing I can tell you is my prayer in 2019 was that we would be spared the upcoming hurricane season in the state of Florida.
We were in a situation as we got in the height of hurricane season, you had a monstrous hurricane barreling east are barreling west towards the Florida peninsula, called Hurricane Dorian. It was a category five, a very strong category, five and it was headed, basically going to ram right into our state.
Well, and at that time, when it was on that track, people were saying: well, God must not be listening to the Governor because we may be getting rammed here.
While I can tell you, the storm was headed our way, it slowed down, it turned all the way, ninety degrees and went north and never impacted our coast. I’m chalking it up to the prayer I put in the Western Wall. People can offer whatever rationale they want.
But because of that trip, we now have Israeli businesses engaged in all kinds of parts of Florida and Florida’s economy.
We have an issue in Florida of a big lake in the middle of Florida, in southern Florida called Lake Okeechobee.
Sometimes, because of runoff from fertilizer, this stuff creates algal blooms.
When the federal government Army Corps dispersed that in different streams, that’s not good! So we work to combat that a variety of ways.
Well, we have Israeli company in lake Okeechobee combating the algae that’s growing with their technology.
We have companies from Israel, who are involved in our medical space, they are involved in their path breaking research on things like Alzheimers and helping with different types of a brain tumors, so this is something that’s very significant.
We have a great relationship with Israel with respect to space. Florida is the epicenter of space launches in the entire world in Israel. Israel now has a big part of doing that, and so this is been a great relationship with the state of Florida.
It’s also been a great economic relationship between the United States.
We’re very proud of those ties, and I think those ties are only going to go stronger in the future.
We’re going to be the only state that has to direct flights to Ben Gurion airport – Miami and Fort Lauderdale, EL AL is going to do both.
So the task before us as Americans, is standing strongly and forthrightly with Israel and with the Jewish people.
We must support Israel’s right to defend itself, and that includes strong military and intelligence cooperation.
It also includes supporting Israel maintaining its qualitative military superiority with system such as iron dome.
We must also ensure that, however the future political winds may blow, the US embassy will always be right here in Jerusalem. That’s never going to change.
The US must defend Israel against disfavored treatment by the United Nations and other international bodies and agenda driven international advocacy organizations.
We must reject those who reject Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
That is Anti-Semitism.
We must also, in America, respect Israel’s right to make its own decisions about its own governance.
You’re a smart country, you figure it out. It shouldn’t be for us to butt in to these important issues.
The US should also recommit to the framework of the Abraham Accords and build a strong alliance between the US, Sunni- Arab states and Israel, against the threat posed by the Iranian regime.
I recently met in my office in Tallahassee with ambassadors from Israel and the UAE, a joint meeting between those two ambassadors and the Governor of Florida, that would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Look at all the progress that’s been made.
We should focus on common interests and future opportunities, not on past grievances. The US can work with countries to advance mutual interest with its natural partners and stand by its allies.
This vision for a strong US, Israel relationship is one that enhances regional cooperation, stability and security.
So let’s hope that the next seventy five years will be just as good as these previous and that people will look back and identify the strong partnership between the US and Israel as a major factor in the continuing vitality of the Jewish state.
Now you look back seventy-five years, I’m reminded of a quote from David Ben-Gurion that said “in Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”
If you think about what this region looked like prior to modern Jewish settlement, this was not exactly the land of opportunity.
When Mark Twain visited in the nineteenth century, he said he described the land of Israel as a hopeless, dreary, heartbroken land and yet against all odds, the people of Israel had taken a barren desert and transformed it into an oasis of freedom and innovation. A vibrant society in the heart of one of the world’s toughest neighborhoods.
Israel’s success should provide us all with a sense of hope.
I’ll just conclude by alluding to the very founding of the United States and really our best values and how we’ve always supported the importance of religious freedom.
In 1790, George Washington traveled to Newport, Rhode Island shortly after Rhode Island had ratified the US Constitution. They were one of the last states to do so.
He received a letter on his visit from the local Hebrew congregation.
The letter praised Washington and America for their dedication of preserving and protecting religious freedom.
Washington responded to the letter the following day by noting “It is now no more than that toleration is spoken of as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoy the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily, the government of the United States, which gives bigotry no sanction to persecution, no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens and giving it all on occasion, their effectual support.
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell on this land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants, while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercy, scatter light and not darkness in our paths and make us all in our several vocations, useful here in its own do time and way, everlastingly happy.”
I agree with President Washington. God bless the United States and God bless the people of Israel. Thank you very much.