DeSantis says US should not accept refugees from Gaza

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Saturday that the US should not accept refugees from Gaza, as tens of thousands flee their homes following an evacuation warning from Israel ahead of a possible ground assault.

“I don’t know what (President Joe) Biden’s gonna do, but we cannot accept people from Gaza into this country as refugees. I am not going to do that,” DeSantis, who is vying for the GOP presidential nomination, said at a campaign stop in Creston, Iowa.

“If you look at how they behave, not all of them are Hamas, but they are all antisemitic. None of them believe in Israel’s right to exist,” he continued.

DeSantis argued that Arab states should accept refugees from Gaza, who are attempting to cross south into Egypt, rather than refugees being “import(ed)” to the United States.

DeSantis’ characterization of Gaza residents is not supported by public polling on the issue. In a July poll by the pro-Israel organization the Washington Institute, 50% of Gazans agreed that “Hamas should stop calling for Israel’s destruction and instead accept a permanent two state solution based on the 1967 borders.”

Rival GOP presidential contender Nikki Haley on Sunday responded to DeSantis’ remarks by saying the United States “has always been sympathetic to the fact that you can separate civilians from terrorists,” adding that’s what Americans have to do following the Hamas attacks.

“You have to realize that whether we’re talking about Gazans and Palestinians. All of them don’t – you have half of them at the time that I was there, didn’t want to be under Hamas’ rule. They didn’t want to have terrorists overseeing them. They knew that they were living a terrible life because of Hamas,” Haley told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

In the wake of the surprise attack on Israel last weekend by the militant group Hamas, DeSantis and other Republican presidential hopefuls have voiced strong support for Israel. DeSantis and others have used the attack to argue for hardline immigration policies and stronger border security in the US.

On Thursday, DeSantis pushed back when confronted by a voter at a market in Littleton, New Hampshire, who questioned Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza.

The voter said that he doesn’t condone what Hamas did or the “killing of any innocent civilians,” but that “Israel is doing the exact same thing with Benjamin Netanyahu, who is a radical, right-wing crazy person,” referring to the country’s prime minister.

“And I see hundreds of Palestinian families that are dead, and they have nowhere to go because they can’t leave Gaza, because no one’s opening their borders,” the voter said.

DeSantis said the voter made a “really good point” by bringing up neighboring countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

“Why aren’t these Arab countries willing to absorb some of the Palestinian Arabs? They won’t do it,” DeSantis said.

The pair continued to have a back-and-forth about the conflict. Before walking out of the market, the voter said: “You had my vote, but you don’t now.”

DeSantis has also taken steps as governor of Florida to evacuate state residents from Israel. He told reporters in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Friday that he anticipated the first evacuation flight would land in Florida on Sunday. At a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Saturday night, he said evacuation flights have left Israeli airspace and are en route to Florida.

“We already have planes that have left Israel airspace and are on its way to Florida. We’re going to end up having hundreds and hundreds of Floridians that are going to be brought back to Florida in the ensuing days,” he told reporters.

DeSantis has also seized on former President Donald Trump’s criticism of Netanyahu, slamming the GOP front-runner repeatedly in media appearances and on the campaign trail.

“He attacked Bibi after the country suffered the worst attack it’s had in its modern history. … And he did that because Bibi did not – Bibi congratulated Biden in November. That’s why he did it. He hates Netanyahu because of that. That’s about him. That’s not about the greater good of what Israel is trying to do or American security,” DeSantis said Friday in New Hampshire.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Ali Main and Ebony Davis contributed to this report.

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