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Florida to offer vanity license plates that 'stand with Israel'

Few US officials at state level have such close ties to Israel as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has taken series of controversial steps in support of country
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during delegation trip to Israel in 2019 (Twitter)
By MEE staff in Tampa, Florida

Florida will become the latest US state to offer vanity license plates that show support for Israel after Governor Ron DeSantis - an ardent backer of the country - signed a bill approving dozens of new designs. 

The "Florida Stands With Israel" plate was approved along with 32 others, including ones with slogans such as "In God We Trust" and "Don't Tread on Me", when DeSantis signed the bill on Friday. 

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The state will hold a contest for the design of the new "Florida Stands With Israel" plates, sponsored by the Israeli-American Council (IAC) and coordinated by Artists for Israel.

The bill itself was sponsored by Representative Jamie Grant, who has stepped down from this year's congressional race. 

Ohio and North Carolina also offer similar plates in support of Israel. 

All three states have laws that censure and limit the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which supports Palestinian rights.

In total, at least 30 US states have passed similar legislation.

'Most Israel-friendly state in the country'

Florida law in particular criminalises certain criticisms of Israel, such as public objections over its human rights abuses against Palestinians. Under the legislation, antisemitism is defined using a highly contested framework that has caused the legislation and others like it to come under fire from human rights groups and legal experts.

"Florida is the most Israel-friendly state in the country and we will not stand for discrimination against the Israeli people of any kind," DeSantis said during the bill's passing last year.

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"I cannot wait to strengthen the already unwavering bond between Florida and the great state of Israel," DeSantis said, announcing his plans to sign the legislation during a trip to Israel. 

Few officials at the state level have such close ties to Israel as the Florida governor, who has on multiple occasions made official visits to the country - including to Israeli settlements described by the International Court of Justice as standing contrary to international law. 

He has also received millions of dollars in political donations from figures who directly support Israel's settlement complex. 

In 2016, when DeSantis was a member of the US House of Representatives, Florida's legislature passed an anti-BDS law, prohibiting public entities from contracting projects worth more than $1m with any company or non-profit group that boycotts Israel.

Two years later, that law was expanded to remove the $1m threshold, meaning all projects, regardless of their value, would be subjected to the anti-BDS provision.

DeSantis: Palestinians to blame

Governor DeSantis also visited Israel for a "business development mission" in 2019, fulfilling a promise made during his campaign to expand commercial ties between Florida and Israel.

The visit came just as Washington was planning to unveil the economic portion of its "deal of the century" to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has since been tabled. 

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During the trip, the governor blamed Palestinians for Israel's ongoing occupation of their land. 

"If you look at this whole conflict, to me, the biggest problem has been that Palestinian Arabs have not recognised Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state," DeSantis said. 

"That kind of denialism poisons really everything."

At least 90 delegates from Florida joined him on the official visit, during which he signed a series of Memorandums of Understanding between Florida institutions and Israeli ones, including between Space Florida and the Israel Space Agency, as well as between several universities. 

During the visit, the governor met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. 

In 2018, DeSantis also wrote a letter instructing officials to prohibit state workers and contractors from being reimbursed for official travel expenses incurred while renting accommodations through Airbnb after the company announced it would no longer allow about 200 listings in illegal Israeli settlements to be posted. The company later retracted the policy. 

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