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, were scheduled to appear 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.
“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.
The moment is an uncomfortable one for both parties.
Antisemitism has been on the rise in recent years. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a long-shot Democratic presidential candidate, has been invited by House Republicans to testify on Capitol Hill on censorship. He 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 Rashida Tlaib, who described Israel as “a racist state” at a progressive conference over the weekend. Ms. Tlaib, who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus and is the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, has long been pushing for a shift in thinking around the conflict, focusing the debate on human rights. She also backs the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that aims to pressure Israel into ending the occupation of the West Bank, in solidarity with Palestinians.
In a statement on Sunday, Ms. Tlaib 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, Mr. DeSantis, who received loud applause and a standing ovation, rejected a two-state solution establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. And he denounced efforts that he argued used “the economy and business to impose a radical left-wing agenda” on Israeli policy.
“They are besieged with terrorism,” Mr. DeSantis said of Israelis. “And yet when they act to defend their own people, you have all these people in the cheap seats that are criticizing Israel just for having the temerity to defend their own people.”