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GOP presidential candidates use Israel-Hamas war to stoke anti-immigrant sentiment

Republicans have repeated the claim that many residents of Gaza are antisemitic or sympathetic to terrorism.

By Oliver Willis - October 20, 2023
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Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks with reporters after signing papers to get on the Republican presidential primary ballot at the New Hampshire Statehouse, Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks with reporters after signing papers to get on the Republican presidential primary ballot at the New Hampshire Statehouse, Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

Several Republican presidential candidates have said they would not accept refugees from the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in the United States. To justify this stance, former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott have repeated the claim that many residents of Gaza are antisemitic or sympathetic to terrorism.

The Biden administration has not formally announced a policy on admitting refugees from Gaza, but President Joe Biden has stressed the need for a coordinated international response to the war in the region.

“At my direction, our teams are working in the region, including communicating directly with the governments of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and other Arab nations and the United Nations to surge support and humanitarian consequences for Hamas’s attack to help Israel,” Biden said in remarks in Philadelphia on Oct. 14. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians had nothing to do with Hamas and Hamas’s appalling attacks, and they’re suffering as a result as well.”

Republicans running for their party’s presidential nomination have expressed hostility toward refugees.

At a rally on Oct. 16 in Clive, Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register, Trump said, “We aren’t bringing in anyone from Gaza or Syria or Somalia or Yemen, or Libya, or anywhere else that threatens our security.” He added, “If you’re coming from somewhere full of people who want to kill Americans, we will not let you in.”

Trump said that if he were elected president again he would implement “strong ideological screening of all immigrants to the United States” and would prevent “dangerous lunatics, haters, bigots and maniacs” from taking up residence in the country.

The White House criticized Trump’s speech the next day.

“It is revolting and dangerous to tear people apart right now with cruel poison that undermines our basic values as Americans,” deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement, according to The Hill.

DeSantis made comments that were similar to Trump’s during an Oct. 17 appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity.”

“My position is very clear as the first president to say, No Gaza refugees, period, we’re just not going to do it. And why? Because we don’t want to import the pathologies from the Gaza Strip and other places in the Middle East to the United States of America,” DeSantis said, according to the website Florida Politics.

DeSantis further claimed: “They are taught to hate Jews. They are taught that Israel has no right to exist. The textbooks that they use don’t even have Israel on the map at all. And so this is just endemic to their culture. It’s a really toxic culture that’s developed.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, said during an Oct. 17 appearance on Fox, “I’ve always said we shouldn’t take any Gazan refugees in the U.S.”

At an Oct. 16 forum in Washington, D.C., held by the Associated Press and the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service, Scott said he opposed accepting Gaza refugees, arguing that there is currently “no ability to discern who’s coming in our country.”

The rhetoric from the party’s top presidential contenders echoes Republicans’ previous opposition to immigration and asylum-seekers.

Following the 2021 withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, the Department of Defense launched Operation Allies Refuge to resettle Afghan nationals and their families who supported the U.S. during the war between the United States and Afghanistan.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA) tweeted in August 2021, “GA shouldn’t welcome Afghan refugees while 1,000’s of Americans are stranded.” She wrote, “The future of GA shouldn’t be like [Minnesota] that voted for Omar.” Minnesota is home to many refugees from the Somali civil war, and many of them are Muslim, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Omar has frequently been the subject of Islamophobic criticism by conservatives.

In an August 2021 statement, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) expressed concerns that the chaos of the withdrawal was being used as “an excuse to flood our country with refugees from Afghanistan.”

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) described the region as a “hotbed of terrorism” and stressed the “need to be incredibly vigilant” in an August 2021 tweet expressing skepticism about Afghan refugees.

When Trump was president, he implemented anti-immigrant policies that included a ban on travel to the U.S. from countries with large Muslim populations and failed efforts to build a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

At the launch of his presidential campaign in 2015, Trump criticized immigrants from Mexico, saying: “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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