What the GOP debate candidates have said about the Israel-Hamas conflict

Questions about the Israel-Hamas conflict are sure to come up during the third and fourth Republican debates

Ariana Baio
Tuesday 09 January 2024 17:32 GMT
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Trump claims ‘vicious’ Israel-Hamas conflict ‘wouldn’t happen’ if he was president

The onset of the Israel-Hamas conflict was a major theme of the third Republican primary debate on 8 November, with candidates declaring their support for Israel in varying degrees.

Since the war began in early October, there have been disagreements regarding how the US should back Israel as an ally while also trying to protect the innocent Palestinians caught in the crossfire.

Candidates were under more pressure this time around because they were given more time to answer thoughtfully thanks to the dwindling number of participants who met the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) stricter criteria.

Just five candidates, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and ex-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, qualified for the third debate.

Former president Donald Trump, who technically qualified, refused to join his opponents on stage. Though, Mr Trump has still voiced his opinion on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Here’s what the GOP candidates have said about the war.

Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Florida Freedom Summit at the Gaylord Palms Resort on November 04, 2023 in Kissimmee, Florida

Mr Trump has been both somewhat critical and supportive of Israel.

At first, he asserted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unprepared for the attack, pushing some of the blame onto him. During that statement, Mr Trump also called Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant organisation designated a terrorist group, “smart”.

A spokesperson for Mr Trump later clarified that the ex-president was only “pointing out how incompetent Biden and his administration were by telegraphing to the terrorists an area that is susceptible to an attack” and did not mean Hezbollah was “good”.

After receiving backlash, Mr Trump changed his tune by condemning the attack and expressing support for Israel on Truth Social.

He has also claimed that Hamas’ attack on Israel would not have happened under his administration, much like he has when speaking about Ukraine.

Ron DeSantis

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov Ron DeSantis speaks at the Heritage Foundation on October 27, 2023 in Washington, DC

The Florida governor has taken a pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian approach.

Mr DeSantis has said he believes that the US should provide support to Israel but does not believe US service members should be on the ground.

“As commander-in-chief, I am not going to put our troops in harm’s way unless you are willing to defend them with everyone you have,” Mr DeSantis said during the debate. “Biden has ‘em out there. They are sitting ducks.”

However, Mr DeSantis did boast about planes, contracted by Florida, that brought “hospital supplies, drones, body armour and helmets” to first responders in Israel.

An Israeli diplomat contradicted the statement, saying the governor’s office sent medical supplies that were requested by the health ministry and was contacted to ensure a flight carrying rifle parts could leave from Miami.

Mr DeSantis has also condemned antisemitism in the US and around the world in the wake of the attacks and said the US should not accept innocent civilians from Gaza as refugees.

He ordered two Florida universities to deactivate their chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and also baselessly claimed that Gaza citizens “are all antisemitic”.

Nikki Haley

Republican presidential hopeful and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023

Ms Haley is supportive of Israel but believes the US should only play a minor role in the conflict.

“I don’t think America needs to be telling Israel what to do,” Ms Haley told the Carolina News and Record. “Let Israel do what Israel needs to do. Don’t talk to them about a ceasefire. Don’t talk to them about restraint. Don’t talk to them about humanitarian aid.”

The former United Nations ambassador has instead encouraged Mr Netanyahu to “finish” Hamas.

She has also said the US should not take people in Gaza as refugees but she expressed some sympathy for innocent civilians by acknowledging that many Palestinians “want to be free” from Hamas.

“America has always been sympathetic to the fact that you can separate civilians from terrorists,” she told CNN.

However, Ms Haley also circulated misinformation about the attack early on, by falsely claiming the US’s prisoner exchange deal with Iran helped fund Hamas’ attack on Israel.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX Business Network and Univision, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Mr Ramaswamy has mostly expressed support for Israel but maintained that the US should not be involved in the conflict at all.

“Israel is our most important ally in the Middle East but they get to make their own decisions about their national self-defence,” Mr Ramaswamy told Fox News.

“But if we’re going to get involved I do have some serious concerns about a prolonged ground invasion in Gaza,” he added.

Mr Ramaswamy has also been critical of Mr DeSantis’ attempt to deactivate pro-Palestinian groups on Florida’s campus.

Chris Christie

Republican presidential candidate and former Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie speaks during the Florida Freedom Summit at the Gaylord Palms Resort on November 04, 2023 in Kissimmee, Florida

Mr Christie has condemned Hamas and said the US should provide Israel with whatever support it needs to defend itself and take down Hamas

The former New Jersey governor believes the US should provide Israel with military aid and does not think a ceasefire is the right strategy.

He outlined three major strategies that he believes should be the objective of Israel and the US.

“Protect Israel’s citizens to their territorial integrity, make sure that we diminish Hamas’ capability to do this again and to keep, on track, with isolating Iran who is the banker of terrorism in the Middle East,” Mr Christie told CNN.

Tim Scott

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NBC News, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Miami

The South Carolina senator has declared support for Israel and believes the US should send financial and military support. He ended his presidential bid in mid-November.

“America should stand should-to-shoulder, back-to-back, with no daylight with Israel,” Mr Scott has repeated multiple times.

He called on Mr Biden to “be responsive” and send US special forces into Gaza to help rescue American hostages.

Mr Scott also purported the conspiracy theory that Mr Biden’s Iranian deal helped fund the terrorist attack

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