Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he’d “of course” meet with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a high-profile trade mission as DeSantis weighs a presidential bid.
“Of course,” he said Sunday morning on CBS’s “Face the Nation” when he was asked whether he'd meet with DeSantis. “I'll meet with everyone. Why not? I meet with Republican governors and Democratic governors. I’m not avoiding the question, and actually I’m rushing right into it. … I think it’s my job, and I think it’s important for Israel’s bipartisan support in the United States. I make a point of it.”
DeSantis’ office has not confirmed it has scheduled a meeting with Netanyahu, and it did not reply to a request for comment.
Until now, it had not been clear whether DeSantis would get a meeting with Netanyahu.
DeSantis’ announcement Friday of a global trade mission specifically noted that he would meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, as well as British Foreign Minister James Cleverly. But notably, it made no mention of whether he’d meet with Netanyahu in Israel.
Netanyahu is seen as a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, who’s running for a second term and has been relentlessly attacking DeSantis over the past few months even though DeSantis has not officially entered the presidential race. In the past, Netanyahu has been reluctant to weigh in on U.S. elections.
As DeSantis considers a possible 2024 presidential bid, he has drawn criticism — even from some in his own party — for a perceived lack of foreign policy experience after he referred to the war in Ukraine as a "territorial dispute." He later downplayed the comments and switched to harsher language against Russia.
DeSantis has long touted a strong relationship with Israel as one of his top priorities, but Netanyahu’s close ties to Trump sets up a thorny dynamic as Trump and DeSantis gear up to clash in the presidential race.
DeSantis is scheduled to speak at the Celebrating the Faces of Israel conference in Jerusalem on Thursday. In a news release, his office said he would meet with “government leaders” and “Israeli companies that have invested or are interested in investing in Florida.”
The release noted that bilateral trade between Florida and Israel reached $651 million in 2022 and that it has grown by 65% over the last five years.
DeSantis also met with Netanyahu in 2019, when he called him a "great friend of Florida."
DeSantis’ support for Israel had been evident even before his gubernatorial administration. During a 2017 trip as a House member, he joined a group of U.S. lawmakers on a fact-finding mission to Israel where he scouted possible locations in Jerusalem to move the U.S. Embassy — and he also met with Netanyahu.
In addition to an effort to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, DeSantis also sponsored a bill to prevent boycotts of U.S. allies, including Israel, and one that would amend the Iran sanctions law to allow states to impose their own sanctions beyond the federal sanctions. He also wanted to limit U.S. support for Palestinians and would have banned the purchase of “heavy water” — an important component for nuclear reactors — from Iran.
In his book “The Courage To be Free,” DeSantis highlighted the 2017 trip and an accompanying news conference where he expressed his view that then-President Trump would deliver on his promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem.
“My words created some buzz in Israel. Was an announcement imminent? people wondered,” DeSantis wrote. “I was freelancing, and my trip was not coordinated with the White House, so the answer was: not necessarily.”
Later that year, Trump did announce he was moving the embassy.
A month before the announcement, DeSantis convened a subcommittee hearing to press the issue.
“From my seat in the House, I wanted to create a sense of inevitability about the relocation of our embassy,” DeSantis wrote. “I looked at a handful of possible locations, and the site I thought was the best ended up being the site that was selected by the Trump administration.”
Trump’s campaign pushed back strongly against the idea that DeSantis’ advocacy for moving the embassy had anything to do with the final decision.
“People have tried to take credit for President Trump’s hard work,” Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman, said. “It never ends well.”