Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) this weekend said the United States should not take refugees from the Gaza Strip and called on fellow GOP candidates for president to follow suit, looking to highlight his differences with rivals on a deadly conflict that has the 2024 Republican field largely united.
“We cannot accept people from Gaza into this country as refugees. … If you look at how they behave, not all of them are Hamas, but they are all antisemitic,” DeSantis said on Saturday as he campaigned in Iowa, referring to the Gaza-based Palestinian militant group whose surprise attack in Israel this month triggered war. “None of them believe in Israel’s right to exist.”
DeSantis reiterated that view Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” calling the culture in Gaza “toxic” and suggesting that accepting refugees would increase antisemitism and “anti-Americanism” in the United States.
The war between Israel and Hamas has become a major issue in the GOP presidential race in the past week, with some candidates looking to underscore their staunch support of Israel. Several Republican contenders, including DeSantis, also have rebuked former president Donald Trump with more forthright sharpness over the issue, criticizing Trump for faulting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and calling another group attacking Israel “very smart.”
Israeli officials have warned more than 1 million Palestinians to leave the northern Gaza Strip as the Israeli military responds to Hamas with airstrikes and prepares a ground assault seeking to end the militant group’s rule in the territory. The United Nations has objected to Israel’s mass-evacuation order as unworkable, and at Gaza’s southern edge, Egypt has resisted opening it’s border to refugees from Gaza because of potential political fallout and security risks.
“Why aren’t they opening the gates?” asked former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, another GOP presidential contender, on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “Why aren’t they taking the Palestinians? Because they know they can’t vet them and they don’t want Hamas in their neighborhood.”
Haley struck a different tone than DeSantis, however, when CNN’s Jake Tapper asked about DeSantis calling all residents of Gaza anti-Semitic. “There are so many of these people who want to be free from this terrorist rule. … And America has always been sympathetic to the fact that you can separate civilians from terrorists, and that’s what we have to do,” Haley said.
Tapper had noted polling from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which found that most Gazans wanted Hamas to “stop calling for Israel’s destruction” and “accept a permanent two-state solution.”
Tapper did not ask specifically if the U.S. should refuse refugees, and representatives for Haley’s campaign did not immediately say Sunday afternoon if she had a position.
Haley, DeSantis and other GOP candidates have all focused heavily on the Israel-Hamas war this past week. DeSantis opened his Saturday stump speech in Creston, Iowa, by discussing the issue, and has directed Florida’s state government to help fly Florida residents out of Israel and deliver supplies, as some major passenger airlines halt service.
The federal government also is working to fly Americans out of the conflict zone. DeSantis said passengers on Florida’s first flights out of Israel are expected to arrive Sunday.
DeSantis also has used the attacks by Hamas — which the U.S. has designated a foreign terrorist organization — as an opportunity to press for further restrictions on migrants coming across the U.S. border with Mexico.
“I’ve said publicly many times prior to [these] terrorist attacks against Israel: There will be a terrorist attack in this country that we’ll be able to link to that southern border,” he said Saturday.
Trump, meanwhile, has claimed without providing evidence that the “same people that raided Israel” are crossing the southern border “at record numbers.”
Alex Nowrasteh, who has studied crime and immigration data at the Cato Institute, testified before Congress recently that nine foreign‐born terrorists entered the country illegally from 1975 to last year but said that only three of those people crossed the U.S. border with Mexico.
Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.