Roughly one month after Hamas attacked Israel Oct. 7, Florida lawmakers convened in Tallahassee for a special session focused on showing support for Israel in its war against the Palestinian militant group.
During last week’s special session, lawmakers passed resolutions to condemn the Hamas attacks and express support for Israel. The legislature also approved legislation to expand economic sanctions on Iran-backed businesses. Additionally, lawmakers appropriated $45 million for Jewish institutions to further support Jewish individuals amid the rise in antisemitism.
Alachua County lawmakers expressed their support and skepticism of the legislation passed during the special session.
Florida Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, who co-sponsored a Senate resolution bill in support of Israel, said the session came at a critical time.
“We have a lot of Jewish colleagues and friends,” he said. “To condemn these kinds of terrorist attacks, really anywhere in the world, is important.”
“Our goal was to have a message of solidarity with Israel, and that was achieved,” Perry said.
The special session also took place the same week Gov. Ron DeSantis faced four other candidates at the third Republican presidential primary debate Nov. 8 in Miami. When asked about the Israel-Hamas war, DeSantis shared his unwavering support for Israel’s military response to the Hamas attacks.
“Finish the job, once and for all,” DeSantis said.
There was minimal discussion about Palestinians during the special legislative session, Perry said. However, lawmakers moved to further sanction Iran with Senate Bill 10-C. The bill passed unanimously and will broaden restrictions on state investments in Iran-backed businesses.
The goal is to diminish Iran’s economic ability, Perry said, out of concern for Iran’s financial backing of Hamas. Government regimes that support terrorism do not have civilians’ best intentions in mind, Perry added.
“I think the people who live in Palestine under Hamas suffer a ton,” Perry said. “You don’t speak out against Hamas unless you want to disappear.”
Florida House Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, was not present at the special legislative session due to a family emergency but voiced skepticism about the session’s accomplishments.
The conversations in Tallahassee have steered too far into international territory, Hinson said. While Florida’s Jewish population cannot go ignored, Hinson thinks the $45 million lawmakers are looking to disperse to Jewish institutions, like schools and synagogues, subtracts from other issues prevalent in Florida, such as insurance affordability and cost of living.
“We need to stay in our lane and focus on Florida,” she said. “We have all kinds of communities of people that need support right here.”
During the session, Florida House Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, proposed House Resolution 31C, which called for the “de-escalation and cease-fire in the state of Israel and occupied Palestine.” Nixon and Florida House Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, who is Iranian, were the lone representatives among the 106 lawmakers present who supported the bill.
To Hinson, it was not the time and place to call for support for a ceasefire, partly because she doesn’t expect Hamas to respect a ceasefire agreement. However, opposition toward Nixon was too aggressive, she added, with several Democratic and Republican lawmakers calling her resolution antisemitic.
Despite major bipartisan support for Israel, Hinson said the conflicting views about the Israel-Hamas war have sparked rifts within the legislature. The friction was especially visible within the Democratic caucus' reaction to Nixon's resolution, Hinson added.
“We have so violently traumatized each other about the way we feel about particular issues,” Hinson said. “We've got to figure this out. We can't continue this way.”
Hinson also views DeSantis’ current outspokenness about Israel as merely a strategy to garner support for his presidential campaign.
The special session came three weeks after Florida House Rep. Randy Fine, R-Melbourne, publicly denounced DeSantis’ for his lack of support for the Jewish community. Fine, who is Jewish, was one of DeSantis’ strongest supporters. Instead, Fine said he will be supporting Trump for the presidency.
The political game is obscuring DeSantis’ focus on equal support for struggling communities in Florida, Hinson said.
“I think we need to be a little bit more sensitive and careful about how we treat other people, especially people that are actual Florida citizens,” Hinson said.
Florida Senator Jennifer Bradley, a Republican who serves the northern half of Alachua County, voted for the resolution in support of Israel and views the Jewish state as a long-time friend and ally to Florida.
“[The resolution] sends a message to the state that sends a message nationally that Florida stands with Israel today and tomorrow and in the future,” Bradley said.
The focus on Israel does not deviate from the focus on Florida, because the state has a sizable Jewish population, she said, especially at UF. Nearly 20% of UF’s undergraduate student population is Jewish, according to Hillel International.
“I'm not going to ask Israel to stand down,” she said. “Israel has every right to defend itself and
protect its people.”
Contact Sophia Bailly at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @sophia_bailly.
Sophia Bailly is a second-year journalism major and covers politics for the enterprise desk. Some of her favorite things include The Beatles, croissants and Agatha Christie books. When she's not writing stories she's either reading or going for a run.