Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency in Florida—some 6,500 miles from the Israeli-Hamas war that’s broken out in the Middle East—to cope with any violence that might break out over here.
The declaration will mean activation of the Florida National Guard and the Florida State Guard, the latter of which answers to DeSantis alone. Jeremy Redfern, press secretary to the governor, confirmed that the state will send aircraft to Israel to evacuate Americans and deliver supplies.
DeSantis’ seven-page emergency order doesn’t say directly what this means for average Floridians, except for plans to boost security around pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrations, including on campuses.
Emergency declarations allow disaster managers to cut through administrative and budgetary red tape to respond to a crisis. Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, will manage the response. They also are intended to smooth coordination with other states and the federal government where warranted.
“This Executive Order allows the State of Florida to carry out logistical, rescue and evacuation operations to keep its residents safe. Specifically, this order enables the Florida Division of Emergency Management to bring Floridians home and transport necessary supplies to Israel,” DeSantis communications director Jason Mahon said in a written statement.
“There are more than 20,000 Americans, including Floridians, in Israel who wish to return home but are unable to do so. This Executive Order allows the State of Florida to carry out logistical, rescue and evacuation operations to keep its residents safe.
The order cites “demonstrations and fundraising campaigns throughout the United States, including Florida, intended to intimidate and threaten the Jewish population and to support Hamas, a U.S. Secretary of State-designated foreign terrorist organization.”
“[B]eginning on Oct. 7 and continuing to the present date, the State of Florida responded immediately by surging law enforcement resources upon request to prevent violence at these demonstrations and to protect the Jewish population in their schools and places of worship,” the order continues.
Additionally, DeSantis has mobilized law enforcement agencies including the Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Department of Law Enforcement, plus officials at schools, colleges, and universities, “to ensure that Florida does not tolerate the harassment of its citizens and to prevent terrorist activities, including the unlawful harboring and financial support of foreign terrorist organizations.”
“The Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) is arranging for chartered flights home for Floridians currently in Israel. FDEM is also working on transporting supplies. As the governor stated, this Executive Order will allow the State to carry out logistical, rescue and evacuation operations,” Amelia Johnson of the agency’s press office said in an email.
DeSantis, who is running in the Republican primaries for president, acted amid broader criticisms within his party of the Biden administration’s response to the violence that began when the Islamist organization Hamas attacked Israeli military outposts and civilians near Gaza on Saturday.
President Joe Biden and congressional leaders said Wednesday that the administration was attempting to extract Americans being held hostage by Hamas. “We’re working on every aspect of the hostage crisis in Israel, including deploying experts to advise and assist with the recovery efforts,” Biden said. The administration released more details on Thursday.
As of Wednesday, 22 Americans were confirmed dead in Israel and 17 unaccounted for but those numbers were expected to rise.
“Today I signed an executive order authorizing rescue operations in Israel to bring Floridians home and transport supplies to our allies. We will not leave our residents behind. To the many Floridians who are stuck in Israel, trying to get home—help is on the way,” DeSantis announced on X, formerly Twitter.
Florida Congressman Cory Mills, a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, claimed on X that he’d evacuated more than six dozen Americans from Israel in two days.
“If Biden and his administration won’t prioritize American lives then I will step up and do his job for him! 77 Americans in 2 days safe and no longer trapped in Israel while Biden thinks of a plan,” Mills wrote.
“Politician Talk and Statesmen Act! This is the second country (Afghanistan 2021 & Israel 2023) we’ve had to save Americans because Biden had no plan and No leadership! This never happened under President Trump!”
What Biden’s Doing
Biden has sent U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Israel and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was due on Friday. Government evacuation flights were also to begin on Friday, The Washington Post reported.
Additionally, the president has ordered the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier group and the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier group into the Eastern Mediterranean to support Israel.
In Boca Raton Wednesday, a march in support of Palestine at Florida Atlantic University drew a counter protest and subsequent clashes ended with three arrests, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
Earlier in the week, 30 people were injured during a stampede during Jewish-led candlelight vigil at the University of Florida. The Independent Florida Alligator reported that 911 calls to report that an attendee had fainted caused the panic.
“Most Pro-Israel Governor’
DeSantis claims to be the “most pro-Israel governor” in the country and has traveled to that country multiple times while in Congress and after moving into the Governor’s Mansion. His latest trip was in April, part of a swing through Japan, South Korea, and the U.K. preliminary to launching his presidential bid. Shortly after taking office as governor, he led a 98-member trade delegation on a trip that included a visit to the then-recently relocated U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
Also early in his first term, during a religious gathering in the Capitol DeSantis described being moved during a stay in the Holy City.
“Having been to Israel and actually stood in the City of David, been walking along the path that Abraham walked, seeing the different scenes for Jesus when he was alive and then ultimately crucified, and seeing the site of the tomb—all these things come alive. It will change your life forever,” he said at the time.
He has described baptizing at least one of his children with water drawn from the Sea of Galilee.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orange County, daughter of immigrants from Iran, noted that religious-based violence cuts both ways between these communities in a series of posts on X.
“There is major concern from our community about a surge in hate crimes against Jews and Muslims right now, which have already soared in recent years—especially here in Florida where Nazis have marched openly in our streets,” Eskamani wrote.
“Online we have witnessed harmful rhetoric, images and vandalism perpetuated towards already marginalized communities. From antisemitism to Islamophobia; the hate seems to have no bounds. Disagreeing with policy is one thing, but hate crimes are unacceptable. Be a role model for your peers and lead with love. And if you see something, say something,” she continued.
“Starting tomorrow the federal government will have chartered flights to assist U.S. citizens and their immediate families from departing Israel. This is essential, and we should also not forget about American Palestinians who may be in Gaza,” Eskamani said in a text message.
The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.