Aid for Gaza refugees creates a focal point for DeSantis and Haley

The deepening humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip is driving a wedge between Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, the two leading Republican presidential candidates, who diverged sharply on Sunday over whether the United States should help Palestinian refugees from the region ahead of an expected Israeli invasion.

In an appearance on the CBS morning show “Face the Nation” Mr. DeSantis, the Florida governor, doubled down on remarks he made a day earlier in Iowa, advocating hard-line opposition to helping civilians thrust into the middle of the conflict.

“They teach children to hate Jews,” he said. “The textbooks don’t even have Israel on the map. They prepare very young children to carry out terrorist attacks. So I think it’s a toxic culture.”

Ms. Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations under President Donald J. Trump, rejected that view during a CNN interview Sunday with Jake Tapper on the “State of the Union.”

“America has always been sympathetic to the fact that you can separate civilians from terrorists,” she said after being shown a clip of Mr. DeSantis’ first comments on Saturday.

Nearly a million people are struggling with a lack of food, clean water and shelter in Gaza, which is preparing for an Israeli ground invasion in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attacks and hostage-taking by Hamas, the Iran-backed militant group.

Mr. DeSantis argued on Sunday that it would be harmful to the United States to “import” large numbers of refugees and would fuel anti-Semitism, repeating comments he made about the people of Gaza a day before they drew criticism.

At a campaign event on Saturday, Mr. DeSantis said: “If you look at how they behave, they are not all Hamas, but they are all anti-Semitic. None of them believe in Israel’s right to exist.”

He added: “The Arab states should take them. If you have refugees, you don’t bring people in and bring them into the United States.”

When CBS anchor Margaret Brennan pointed out to Mr. DeSantis that Arabs are Semites and repeated his remarks, he stood by his words.

“There was a lot of celebration of those attacks in the Gaza Strip by a lot of non-Hamas people,” he said.

Ms. Brennan suggested that there was little possibility that Gaza refugees could be resettled in the United States, saying they could not even evacuate from their immediate area. Still, Republicans have used the broader conflict to frame their views on military action and humanitarian aid.

In the House, Reps. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin and Andy Ogles of Tennessee, both Republicans, announced that they plan to introduce the law they say it would block the Biden administration from issuing visas to Palestinian passport holders.

Mr. DeSantis, who served in the Marine Corps General Counsel in Iraq, was also asked whether he would advise the Israeli military to stop attacks on infrastructure that provides water and electricity to Gaza.

“I don’t think they are obligated to provide water and these utilities while hostages are being held,” he said.

Ms Haley drew more sympathy earlier on Sunday, saying a large percentage of Palestinians and Iranians do not support violence against each other.

“There are so many of these people who want to break free from this reign of terror,” she said.

While the Republican candidates expressed solidarity with Israel after the Hamas attacks, they also clashed with each other over who is most loyal to Israel, America’s closest Middle Eastern ally, and what the United States’ role should be in conflicts abroad.

Ms Haley on Sunday continued to blast Mr Trump, her former boss and the Republican nominee, for calling Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group, “very smart” while criticizing Israel’s prime minister and Israeli intelligence. She accused Mr. Trump of emboldening America’s adversaries and drawing attention to himself.

“You don’t go and compliment any of them because that makes America look weak,” she said on CNN, adding: “It’s not about Trump. It’s not about him.”

A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.

Ms. Haley also leveled fresh criticism at President Biden, saying he should never have agreed to release $6 billion in frozen oil revenue for Iran for humanitarian purposes as part of the hostage release deal announced in August.

Facing pushback over the release of the money, the Biden administration and Qatar agreed last week to deny Iran access to the funds, which White House officials said had not been spent.

“You’ve empowered Iran to go and strengthen Hamas, strengthen Hezbollah, strengthen the Houthis to expand their terrorist activity,” Ms. Haley said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

Haley Johnson contributed reporting from Creston, Iowa.

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