Moving beyond words

Published May 31, 2007

TEL AVIV, Israel - It's not often the Florida Legislature gets international attention.

But an Israeli political leader praised Florida on Wednesday for passing a law that forces the state to cut investment ties with companies that invest in Iran's energy sector.

Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of Israel's opposition Likud Party and former prime minister, told a delegation of Florida officials led by Gov. Charlie Crist that he hoped New York and California would also empty their pension funds of investments with ties to Iran, which Israel considers a terrorist state.

"It's one of those things where you pull a lever in Florida, the effect is in Tehran, " said Netanyahu, who urged lawmakers to take the step in a conference call earlier this year.

The second day of Crist's Mideast mission had a little bit of everything: more meetings with senior Israeli government officials, a small trade pact between Florida and Israel, and a visit to some of Jerusalem's most sacred religious sites.

The governor visited the Old City and viewed the remnants of a thousand-year-old shopping mall and the room where the Bible says Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Last Supper.

At the Jerusalem religious shrine known as the Western Wall, Crist left behind a handwritten note of prayer that asked God to "protect our Florida from storms and other difficulties."

Afterward, Crist said: "It was moving beyond words."

He also had a chance encounter with a woman from Fort Walton Beach and promised her relief from high property taxes.

On Crist's second visit to Israel, his unofficial tour guide was Rep. Robert Wexler, a Democrat from Palm Beach County and a former state Senate colleague.

"It's a special friendship, " Crist said.

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In another development, Crist announced that Florida would spend $42-million for the next five years to promote business ties with Israel, subject to final agreement on a memorandum of understanding between Florida and Israel. The money is already in the new state budget. A business seeking Florida money would have to match the state's contribution by an equal amount.

The Jerusalem Post, the city's main English language daily newspaper, carried a photograph of Crist on Wednesday with a caption that said: "Christ visits Jerusalem."

The governor dismissed it. "What are you gonna do?" he said.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224 7263.