‘Playing secretary of state’: Israel-based meeting of Florida cabinet triggers scandal & suit
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his cabinet kicked off controversy after conducting an official meeting on Israeli soil, prompting a flurry of criticism from watchdog groups and constituents alike.
DeSantis and his cabinet met Wednesday at the US Embassy in Jerusalem to proclaim support for the Jewish state and sign a bill prohibiting anti-Semitism in Florida’s public schools. DeSantis, who has promised to be the “most pro-Israel governor in America,” called the meeting “historic.”
I was honored to take part in this historic meeting at the @usembassyjlm. I want to thank Cabinet members @AGAshleyMoody, @JimmyPatronis and @NikkiFriedFL for joining me and assuring the people of Israel that Florida stands strong with them. pic.twitter.com/ynHnLQVtV4— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) May 29, 2019
The Florida First Amendment Foundation, joined by four media outlets, however, say the meeting violated state legislation known as the “Sunshine Law,” which requires government meetings to be open to the public.
“Holding a meeting at this distance in such a facility violates the constitutional and statutory rights of Florida citizens (and the news media) to personally observe the workings of, and for the public to offer comment to, their state’s highest officials,” the organizations wrote in a complaint filed earlier this week.
SUNSHINE ALERT: FAF files suit against Governor and Cabinet !!! Click here to see complaint ----https://t.co/inel7RB19E@MiamiHerald@TB_Times@Gannett@GatehouseMedia@NFOIC@ACLUpic.twitter.com/dBpQ1o69I5— Florida FAF (@FLFAF) May 28, 2019
Though state officials assured the public the meeting would be “ceremonial” in nature, and would be livestreamed on Florida public television, critics argued it did not qualify as an open proceeding.
“There are legitimate concerns regarding the constitutionality of holding a Cabinet meeting that Floridians cannot attend,” First Amendment Foundation president Barbara Petersen said in a statement.
The initial complaint was dismissed by a Florida judge on Tuesday, but the governor’s office, through a spokesperson, said it intended to comply with Florida law and defend against the allegation. The spokesperson declined to comment further on “pending litigation.”
Some of the governor’s constituents chimed in on social media, many unhappy that state resources were used on the trip.
“Pretending to play secretary of state will do nothing for you in the mind of your constituents,” wrote one Floridian. “Get back home and do something for your citizens.”
How Floridians should look at @GovRonDeSantis for wasting taxpayer money and violating Sunshine laws by having a cabinet meeting in Israel instead of touring #Florida to explain the terrible bills he signed into law this year. #DeSantisVacation@Dreamdefenders@jvplive@theIMEUpic.twitter.com/tgGDUGkd5g— Dwight Bullard (@DwightBullard) May 28, 2019
Another resident said the state did not need “public funds going towards #DeSantisIllegalVacation in a state accused of apartheid,” adding “our resources need to STAY in FL.”
The DeSantis trip isn’t the only recent collision of US and Israeli politics. In late April, after a months-long legal battle, a Texas judge struck down legislation that banned Texas state employees from engaging in boycotts of Israeli products, arguing the measure sought to “manipulate debate through coercion rather than persuasion.”Also on rt.com ‘Complete victory for the First Amendment’: Texas judge blocks anti-BDS law
The bill was one among several introduced this year to combat the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the US, an organized effort to rein in Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.
If you like this story, share it with a friend!