Govs. Greg Abbott, Gavin Newsom and Kathy Hocul visit Israel

Govs. Greg Abbott, Gavin Newsom and Kathy Hocul visit Israel

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✡️Govs. Greg Abbott, Gavin Newsom and Kathy Hocul visit Israel

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Govs. Greg Abbott, Gavin Newsom and Kathy Hocul visit Israel

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott traveled with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to Israel in early November where they met with victims of the Hamas attacks and leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott traveled with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to Israel in early November where they met with victims of the Hamas attacks and leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Courtesy of the Office of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt

In the face of rising criticism over its response to the Hamas attack, Israel has stepped up a political public relations campaign that has tried to bring governors of the four largest U.S. states — including Texas — to the country over the last few weeks to see the devastation up close.

New York Gov. Kathy Hocul and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, both Democrats, visited separately last month, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican running for president, said he turned down an offer to go. Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott traveled with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where they met with victims of the attack and leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“What you get when you are there than when you are not there, is the anguish of the people who have been victimized by this,” Abbott said in an exclusive interview with Hearst Newspapers this week about the trip.

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Abbott, like Newsom and Hocul, returned vowing solidarity and support for the Israeli people at a time when American cities have seen large demonstrations in support of Palestinians and a cease-fire in Gaza. On Sunday, a coalition of groups will hold a rally at the Texas Capitol that they are calling “All Out For Palestine.”

During his trip, Abbott said he could see the frustration of Israelis who fear Americans aren’t grasping the sheer evil and treachery that was used to brazenly attack innocent civilians simply because they are Jewish.

“This wasn’t some lone gunman, but an organized enemy that is organized for the purpose to eliminate Jews,” said Abbott, a third-term Republican.

That’s exactly the message Israel is looking to amplify among political leadership in the United States, said Chris Tuttle, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations.

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“They are looking to make sure they have solid U.S. domestic support, politically speaking,” Tuttle said of Israel.

Abbott’s office did not answer follow-up questions about Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which began after Hamas militants killed 1,400 Israelis and took hundreds more hostage. Since then, more than 10,800 Palestinians — nearly two-thirds of them women and minors — have been killed, according to authorities there.

Tuttle said Israel understands the growing concern from the American left about the nation’s response and is trying to react to it all.

While Israeli interests long have helped fund the international trips for members of Congress who make budget decisions on Israeli aid, what’s different now is the emphasis on getting governors to see the situation up close when they have no direct influence on foreign affairs.

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The governors can’t affect national spending decisions, but Tuttle said they offer something else: large constituencies of voters whom Israeli leaders want to help influence. Combined, the populations of New York, California, Texas and Florida represent one-third of Americans.

The governors win big in two ways, Tuttle said.

“There are domestic constituencies that they want to keep happy in their home states, and not just the Jewish American community,” Tuttle said. “It’s also the evangelical community has been lockstep pro-Israel and wanting to help them.”

That would apply to Abbott. Texas is estimated to have fewer than 200,000 Jewish residents by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, a nonpartisan group that advocates for stronger U.S.-Israeli relations. Florida, California and New York combined have nearly 4 million Jewish residents.

Also important for governors is the rare chance to appear on the international stage, Tuttle said. That’s particularly important for governors who might have national ambitions and would want the visits on their political resumes.

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“Meeting with the Israeli prime minister is a real profile raiser,” Tuttle said.

While the Israeli Consulate in Houston helped coordinate much of Abbott’s trip, his campaign team said they would cover the cost of the air travel to Israel. That’s different from New York, where Hocul is asking taxpayers to cover the estimated $12,000 cost of her trip after plans to have a Jewish nonprofit cover the expense were called into question by that state’s ethics watchdogs.

Such outside groups traditionally have paid to send members of Congress to Israel in the name of educating elected leaders on one of the U.S.’ closest global allies.

The American Israel Education Foundation is a charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC, America’s pro-Israel lobby, which paid for U.S. Reps Morgan Luttrell, R-Conroe, and Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, to visit Israel. Over the last few years, other Texas members of Congress have visited Israel on trips funded by the foundation, including Reps. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston; Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston; Sylvia Garcia D-Houston; and Chip Roy, R-Austin.

Abbott has been to Israel twice before. But he said being there now and seeing the devastation up close made a big impact.

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Abbott said many of the people he spoke to are worried that Americans are not understanding the depth of the horror they have been through. One of the families he met with was that of Hersh Goldberg-Poin, a 23-year-old attending a music festival where at least 260 were killed. Abbott said the family saw videos of him being loaded into a truck and taken hostage to Gaza after having his arm blown off.

“The parents saw the way their son had his body ripped apart,” Abbott said.

While they could see he was alive when he was taken away, Abbott said, they don’t know where he is now, what his medical condition is or even if he is still alive.

“They are in limbo 24 hours a day, seven days a week, awaiting the release of their son as a hostage,” Abbott said.

The governor said that when he saw the festivalgoers in the videos that day, it looked like any music festival with young people in Texas where no one can imagine the devastation that is about to happen. He said even as people who were injured rushed to the medical tent for aid, Hamas tracked them down and tossed grenades into the tent, killing many of those they had just wounded.

One of the biggest takeaways from the trip, Abbott said, was a reminder of the need to be vigilant against the rise of antisemitism. While there are acts of antisemitism that happen from time to time, he said, what Hamas wants is the annihilation of all Jewish people just because they are Jewish.

It’s not just a threat in Israel either. He said Hamas wants to see antisemitic acts around the world. 

“They want to extend the fight against Jews across the entire globe,” he said. “There will be extraordinary threats to Jews across the entire globe.”

Govs. Greg Abbott, Gavin Newsom and Kathy Hocul visit Israel

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