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Details scarce on Israel trip

From travel, lodging and meals to security, no cost estimates have been released for the trip.

The Florida Channel, the state-funded public affairs network, intends to have a crew in Israel as Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Cabinet members meet overseas.

But many details of the upcoming excursion of about 80 people, headed by DeSantis, remain unclear or under wraps. That includes whether Floridians will be able to watch live their elected officials hold a public meeting more than 6,000 miles from Tallahassee.

“We are definitely going, and we are going to get as much as we can,” Beth Switzer, the channel’s executive director, said in an email Tuesday. “But we are not sure on all the specifics yet — still a lot to be worked out regarding specific events to be covered, the technology used and the timing/distribution of the content.”

The Governor’s office is expected by late Wednesday to release the final itinerary of the week-long trip as DeSantis and the Cabinet members — Attorney General Ashley Moody, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — prepare to fly to Tel Aviv. DeSantis will depart Florida on Saturday.

Two state lawmakers, Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican, and Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, previously confirmed they will take part in the trip. The News Service of Florida has requested a finalized list of how many people have been invited to attend.

From travel, lodging and meals to security, no cost estimates have been released for the trip. But it could be hundreds of thousands of dollars, based on an analysis using travel sites such as Kayak.com and Expedia.com.

The traveling party will include an undisclosed number of state law-enforcement officers providing security for the governor and Cabinet members.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement noted that, according to state laws, the governor can request security services for people other than himself where “failure to provide security or transportation could result in a clear and present danger to the personal safety of such persons.”

State law also says security services can be granted to people at the request of the governor if not doing so “could result in public embarrassment to the state.”

Fried’s office said it understood that the FDLE was continuing to review the trip for security purposes.

On May 7, DeSantis said he had not been asked by Israelis to postpone the trip, despite an escalation in the conflict involving Gaza, including rocket attacks by Hamas and retaliatory airstrikes by Israel.

“We’re just going to work with the Israelis to make sure that’s it’s a good time to go. And if it’s not, then we’ll reschedule it. But we haven’t been told that we have to reschedule it,” he added.

Helen Ferre, a spokeswoman with the Governor’s office, said Tuesday a passenger list would be released with the final itinerary.

The Governor’s office previously announced more than 10 business meetings are on tap during the week with CEOs of Israeli companies that do business in Florida or hope to do so.

Florida’s tourism-marketing agency, Visit Florida, is scheduled to host a networking reception in Tel Aviv with Israeli companies.

Also, DeSantis has indicated that he will sign a bill (HB 741) to combat anti-Semitism during the trip. Under the bill, the state’s education system would add religion as a protected class regarding discrimination against students and employees. Currently, people are protected from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, marital status or disability.

The state has not posted an agenda for the Cabinet meeting, which is expected to be held May 29. But during the Cabinet meeting, DeSantis may name winners of grants from Space Florida, the state’s aerospace arm, for Florida-based companies working with Israeli companies.

The Space Florida Board of Directors last week approved a list of 12 finalists for “Innovation Partnership Grant Awards.” Among the finalists are proposals involving companies such as Harris Corp. and Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Asked Monday what it would take to consider the trip a success, Moody spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said in an email that, “Attorney General Moody supports Governor DeSantis’ efforts to strengthen Florida’s relationship with Israel and looks forward to the upcoming trip.”

Patronis spokeswoman Katie Strickland said the state Chief Financial Officer is eager to meet with “cutting-edge” businesses and organizations.

“He is also looking forward to meeting with representatives of Israel Bonds,” Strickland said in the email. “As you may recall, in February of this year, CFO Patronis made a prudent financial investment of increasing Florida’s Israel bonds by an additional $10 million.”

Fried is leaving before DeSantis and other members of the Cabinet.

“The trip is an opportunity to strengthen the Florida-Israel relationship, and to bring home to Florida ideas and innovations from one of the world’s leading nations on technology and research,” Fried spokesman Franco Ripple said in a statement.

During the trip, Fried will host a roundtable discussion on women in agriculture, medical marijuana and cannabis, and agriculture technology, Ripple said.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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