JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – Until this morning, I’d never met Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
But like many Americans and Israelis, I am increasingly intrigued by him.
DeSantis is, after all, arguably the most popular governor in the U.S., having recently won reelection by a staggering 19 percentage points.
He may also soon announce that he is running for President of the United States.
That would be an uphill battle – former President Donald J. Trump is still immensely popular in the GOP, which most polls show that more than 50% of Republicans would vote for him if the primaries were held today.
That said, upwards of 45% to 48% of the GOP – including a growing number of Evangelicals – are looking for someone different.
Could DeSantis fit the bill?
It’s too early to say, but I was grateful for the invitation from the editors of the Jerusalem Post to come to a conference they were holding today and watch DeSantis in action.
And to have the opportunity to ask the governor several questions.
More on that in a moment.
DESANTIS WOWS THE CROWD
First, I must tell you that DeSantis really wowed this crowd.
To a standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 Israeli government leaders, Jewish leaders, Evangelicals, and journalists, DeSantis was introduced as a “friend of Israel” who has visited the Jewish state many times over the years but might come back next time “on Air Force One.”
The line drew laughter and immense applause.
At least a dozen members of the audience that I spoke to afterwards – both Jews and Christians – told me they thought they might be looking at the next President of the United States.
DeSantis didn’t even hint at that possibility – not in his prepared remarks, nor in the press conference that he held afterwards.
But the prospect that he might soon announce it was on everyone’s mind.
The governor then received at least three thunderous standing ovations this morning – one upon taking the stage, a second while delivering the keynote speech at the Post’s forum celebrating the 75th anniversary of the rebirth of Israeli in 1948, and a third when he finished and stepped off the stage.
DESANTIS WARNS IRANIAN REGIME HOLDS “APOCALYPTIC IDEOLOGY”
To be sure, I was intrigued to hear DeSantis talk about his long and impressive record of supporting Israel and fighting anti-Semitism, including many details of his record as a Member of Congress and a governor, which I wasn’t familiar with before.
But I was also encouraged to hear DeSantis describe the Iranian regime as holding an “apocalyptic ideology” that poses an existential threat both to Israel and the United States.
He’s absolutely right – I’ve been writing and saying this for years – it’s just that not many American political leaders get it, much less say it.
Regardless of your political views, I highly commend the speech to you – you can read the full transcript here.
DESANTIS HOLDS STANDING ROOM ONLY PRESS CONFERENCE
Then came the press conference.
More than 100 reporters, producers, photographers, and videographers showed up to get a closer look at DeSantis.
The governor and the CEO of El Al – Israel’s national airline – made some news. They announced that El Al is moving its North American headquarters out of New York, where it has been since the airline was created, to Florida. El Al is also launching two direct flights from Israel to Florida – one to Miami, the other to Fort Lauderdale.
DeSantis, flanked by two Florida legislators, also signed two bills. One was recently passed by Florida legislature to more aggressively combat anti-Semitic hate speech and actions in Florida. The other was a proclamation passed by the legislature “to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence” and “to highlight the importance of the relationship between Florida and Israel.”
Then the governor took questions for more than 30 minutes.
WHY DOES DESANTIS URGE CHRISTIANS TO VISIT ISRAEL?
After addressing questions posed by journalists from the conference host, the Jerusalem Post, and Israel Hayom (the biggest circulation newspaper in the country), I had the opportunity to address the governor on behalf of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and THE ROSENBERG REPORT, my primetime weekly television show that airs Thursday nights at 9 p.m. EST on TBN.
“Governor DeSantis, my name is Joel Rosenberg,” I began. “I’m a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen and an Evangelical. And I just wanted to ask you two questions. One, as a Christian, how do you see the 75th anniversary of Israel? Do you see it as prophetic – do you see it as biblical – or do you just see it as good, solid Zionism, or both?”
“And secondly, I've had an opportunity to lead two Evangelical delegations to Saudi Arabia to meet with Mohammed bin Salman,” I continued. “I'm just curious if you see a pathway forward for an Israeli-Saudi peace treaty, even with President Biden speaking of it being a pariah state? I wondered if you could comment on that.”
“That's a great question,” the governor responded.
He then proceeded to encourage all Christians to come visit Israel because he believes the Bible really comes alive in a dramatic and special way when you can walk in the very Land where it was written and discover the archaeological evidence that the Bible is true.
“So, the first question is, yeah, I think it's both,” DeSantis told me – that is, Israel was reborn because of the hard work of Jewish Zionists and the courage of Jewish soldiers fighting for independence, as well as because of God’s prophetic promises."
“You know, when you come – and you've been on delegations – you can sit there and you can study the Bible in America and it’s great and it's inspiring,” he continued.
“But when you actually come here, you see what happened here. They can show you the artifacts. You can walk in the City of David. If there's something there [an archeological discovery] they can point out and it comes to life. And so, you see that and you're like, “Man!” And, of course, you show the unmistakable thousands and thousands of years of connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. I mean, some of the modern debates act like somehow Jews just decided to show up here or something and, like, claim a state. No, they were exiled. They were dispersed forcibly. But this is where the Jewish people were born as a people thousands of years ago. And so that's really, really significant.”
“And so, the 75th anniversary is really a re-constitution of the Jewish tate of Israel,” he added, “and I think that that's something that we can be proud of.”
DESANTIS BLASTS BIDEN OVER HARSH TREATMENT OF SAUDI ARABIA
Then, DeSantis pivoted to my second question and was sharply critical of the Biden administration’s approach to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“With respect to Saudi Arabia, I think that this administration has worked overtime to alienate the Saudis,” DeSantis told me.
“My view would be that there is an opportunity [for an Israeli-Saudi peace treaty], as I mentioned in the speech,” he added. “You have a great opportunity to have a U.S.-Israel-Arab-country alliance vis-à-vis the nefarious influence of the Iranians. And I think that that's something that's doable.”
“But,” he stressed, “I think that's something that you've got to work for.”
“I think with proper policy and proper relations, you could see Saudi Arabia recognize the existence of Israel,” he said.
“Who would have thought that that would have been anything that anyone could have talked about even ten years ago?”
DeSantis then noted that, as he had mentioned in his keynote speech, “I was recently in my office in Tallahassee with the Ambassador to the United States from Israel. And sitting next to him was the Ambassador to the United States from the UAE [United Arab Emirates.] That would not have been something that would have been possible even five or six years ago. And yet there they are.”
“And if you listen, they were basically focusing on how you move forward in a way that is stressing common interests. They understand that there are common threats. They understand there's a lot of opportunities for collaboration with the two countries. That is something that I think represents the path forward here.”
“The Abraham Accords were historic,” DeSantis told me. “I think that they were incredibly positive. They gave great momentum to things that are happening in the Middle East. And part of it is because the Trump administration got out of the Iran deal that sent a great signal to the Sunni Arab states.”
“I also think that moving the [American] embassy [to Jerusalem] helped get us the Abraham Accords. And people say, ‘Well, how do you think that? They [Arab countries] didn't want the embassy in Jerusalem?’ They didn't. But I think when America shows strength and resolve, people in this region really respect that.”
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.