Vocal on Israel, DeSantis Is Challenged on His Silence on Neo-Nazis in Florida


As Israel’s war against Hamas has become an animating force in the Republican presidential primary, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has cast himself as a staunch defender of the Jewish state, sending taxpayer-funded charter flights to rescue Americans stranded in Israel, calling for harsh measures against the civilians of Gaza and ordering pro-Palestinian groups on public university campuses in his state to disband.

Those efforts, as well as a series of bills he has signed to combat antisemitism in Florida in the past, have won him attention from the news media and praise from some Republican voters.

But Mr. DeSantis has earned fewer plaudits for his response to a series of neo-Nazi demonstrations that have taken place in his state over the last two years. The hateful displays have included masked men marching and chanting “Jews get the rope” and banners with swastikas hung from highway overpasses.

Unlike other prominent Republican politicians in Florida, the governor stayed silent after each incident, making no public statements. When pressed, he has said that he did not wish to draw attention to people he considered provocateurs, and claimed that those calling on him to denounce the groups were trying “smear” him by association. But his adamant, ongoing refusal to condemn the public activities of neo-Nazis has angered and confused many American Jews while highlighting what critics say is his tendency toward obstinacy.

Now, as he challenges former President Donald J. Trump for the Republican nomination, his silence has also become a concern for some Republican donors. Two of them, who were granted anonymity to discuss sensitive and private discussions, said that they or their allies had reached out to Mr. DeSantis’s advisers after high-profile incidents of antisemitism in Florida, urging him to say more. One of the donors recounted being told that Mr. DeSantis did not want to speak out. There wasn’t an explanation as to why, beyond that the governor believed he had done enough already, the person said.

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