DeSantis jab at Trump over Israel may be a hard sell to Florida Jewish Republicans

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. hit with some of his harshest criticisms yet over the former president’s criticism of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and calling Hezbollah “smart.”

But one top Jewish Republican back in his home state wasn’t going along with it.

“When Donald Trump was president, the embassy was moved to Jerusalem and the Golan Heights were annexed and none of this happened,” said state Rep. Randy Fine, who had previously endorsed DeSantis’ bid for president and donated to his campaign. “We didn’t have wars when Donald Trump was president.”

Fine, who said he had visited a kibbutz in the past year where one of the attacks took place, added this: “Maybe the governor should focus his attention on who’s fault this is. And that’s Joe Biden.”

Fine’s comments illustrate the fundamental challenge DeSantis has encountered throughout the GOP primary campaign against Trump. Republicans love his policies and many either don’t mind or even like his rhetoric, regardless of how offensive or tone deaf some people find it.

Many other Republicans running for president also weighed in sharply against comments Trump made Wednesday evening at the Palm Beach County convention center. But one of the first was DeSantis and his campaign, a reminder that the governor has long touted his support of Israel and tried to make inroads with Jewish voters in a state that has one of the highest concentration of Jewish adults in the nation.

He amplified that message when, during a campaign stop in New Hampshire, DeSantis laid into both Biden and his one-time political ally and now chief political tormentor who is leading him significantly in the polls.

“Now is not the time to be doing like what Donald Trump did by attacking Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, attacking Israel’s defense minister, saying somehow that Hezbollah were very smart,” DeSantis said. “We need to all be on the same page. Now is not the time to air personal grievances about an Israeli prime minister. Now is the time to support their right to defend themselves to the hilt. … Now is not the time to be attacking our ally.”

On Thursday, DeSantis also declared a state of emergency due to the situation in Israel and ordered a state agency to charter flights to bring home Floridians now stranded in the country. In an email sent to his political supporters DeSantis, who served in the military in Iraq, said that “the atrocity we are seeing unfold in Israel is personal to me.”

DeSantis’ criticisms of Trump was not only echoed by other Republicans but it also was similar to what many Democrats were saying.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a South Florida Democrat, called Trump’s comments “stupid” and “moronic.”

“It’s harmful in a time like this when we need to rally around Israel,” Moskowitz said. “It’s par for the course. It’s his usual stable genius.”

The Trump campaign — after a day’s worth of mounting criticism from across the political spectrum — leaned into his record on Thursday night.

“Under my leadership, the United States stood in complete solidarity with Israel, and as a result, Israel was safe, America was safe, and for the first time in decades, we made historic strides for Peace in the Middle East,” Trump said in a statement.

One Jewish Republican consultant based in Florida was doubtful that the comments will result in any lasting damage among Jewish Republicans, citing as an example the Abraham Accords, which Trump’s administration brokered and normalized relations between Israel and some Arab states.

“He did more for Israel than any president ever and you can’t take that away from him,” said the consultant, who was granted anonymity in order to share a candid assessment. “If he’s elected again he’ll do the same thing.”

Sally Goldenberg contributed to this story.

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