Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida on Monday sharply criticized the Biden administration’s policies on Israel, calling them “disgraceful,” seeking to highlight his pro-Israel credentials as he goes head-to-head with former President Donald J. Trump for evangelical voters.
In Washington at the Christians United for Israel Summit, an annual gathering of conservatives with ties to the Israeli right wing, Mr. DeSantis also vowed to never waver on Israel’s claim to Jerusalem and to forcefully oppose the boycott-Israel movement that he said promoted prejudice against Jewish people.
Three Republican presidential candidates, including Mr. DeSantis, appeared at the event, which unfolded as President Biden on Monday invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to the White House and was set to meet in Washington later this week with Isaac Herzog, the Israeli president. The Netanyahu government has long cultivated its ties with evangelical Christians, whose beliefs that Israel is special to God has led many to hold hawkish views in support of the Jewish state.
“You’re free as a person to have whatever views you want,” Mr. DeSantis told the crowd. “But when you concoct a movement that focuses all of your ire at the only Jewish state in this world, at the exclusion of all these other things,” he added, “that is antisemitism.”
Mr. DeSantis never once mentioned the progressive Democrats who have said they will boycott a speech by Mr. Herzog to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. But he used his speech to emphasize his strong support for Israel and attack White House policies, as many conservatives have sought to portray Democrats who criticize Israel as anti-Zionist or even antisemitic.
His Republican presidential rivals who also spoke at the event — Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor and a United Nations ambassador in the Trump administration, and former Vice President Mike Pence — took direct aim at the progressive Democratic congresswomen who have pushed for a shift in thinking about the Mideast conflict, focusing the debate on human rights.
Ms. Haley attacked Mr. Biden over how long it took to extend a White House invitation to Mr. Netanyahu after he re-entered office in December. In callbacks to the public fights between Mr. Trump and the “Squad,” she singled out Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who is planning to skip the Herzog speech, and said “the Democratic Party is the definition of extreme.” She added, “It’s time to censure the Squad and get antisemitism out of America for good.”
Antisemitism has been on the rise in recent years. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a long-shot Democratic presidential candidate who has been invited by House Republicans to testify on Capitol Hill on censorship, falsely claimed recently that the Covid-19 virus was engineered to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people, prompting accusations of antisemitism and racism.
And top House Democrats have been rushing to reject comments from Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who described Israel as “a racist state” at a progressive conference over the weekend.
In a statement on Sunday, Ms. Jayapal, who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, sought to clarify her remarks. “I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist,” she said. “I do, however, believe that Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies and that there are extreme racists driving that policy within the leadership of the current government.”
On Monday at the summit in Washington, Mr. Pence criticized Ms. Jayapal, Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota for using what he described as “antisemitic tropes” and “antisemitic remarks.”
“The words by these congresswomen are a disgrace,” Mr. Pence said, adding that “they are beneath the dignity of the relationship” between the United States and Israel. “President Biden and every Democrat member of Congress should denounce them and denounce them today.”
Ms. Omar in 2019 apologized for implying that American support for Israel was fueled by money from a pro-Israel lobbying group, remarks that drew swift condemnation from fellow Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Ms. Tlaib, the first Palestinian American woman elected to Congress, has also faced criticism from Republicans and pro-Israel Democrats for calling Israel an “apartheid regime.”
Coming out in support of Ms. Jayapal on Monday, Ms. Tlaib said, “The Israeli government is committing the crime of apartheid.”
“Apartheid is a racist system of oppression,” she added.
On Monday, Mr. DeSantis, who received loud applause and a standing ovation, rejected a two-state solution establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel that has been at the basis of peace talks for decades but has proved difficult to achieve. And he denounced efforts that he argued used “the economy and business to impose a radical left-wing agenda” on Israeli policy.
“The way they treat a strong ally like Prime Minister Netanyahu,” he said of the Biden administration, “what they’re trying to do to shoehorn Israel into bad policies has been disgraceful.”