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Republicans Are Rationalizing Cruelty Toward Gaza
Israel has legitimate cause to fight and defeat Hamas. That doesn’t mean we should tell our ally to embrace cruelty and brutality in their response.
TWENTY-TWO YEARS AGO, when terrorists massacred Americans in the name of Islam, a Republican president responded with care and clarity. George W. Bush rejected al Qaeda’s attempt to pit Muslims against the United States. He embraced Islam as a religion of peace, and he declared that America’s war was with terrorism, not Islam. It was a war of good people and good faiths against ruthless violence.
That Republican party is gone. On Saturday, the GOP’s eight remaining viable presidential candidates—including former Vice President Mike Pence, who announced during his remarks that he was suspending his campaign—spoke in Las Vegas at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Several portrayed America as a Judeo-Christian nation committed by affinity or duty to Jewish dominion in the Holy Land. Some explicitly opposed humanitarian aid to Gaza; none defended it. Some rejected all Gazan refugees as toxic and inadmissible. Almost without exception, the candidates insisted that Israel should be unconstrained in its military operations.
I’m Jewish. I believe in Israel, and I’m aghast at what Hamas did to so many innocent people on October 7. I strongly support the use of force against the killers. But as thousands of innocent people die in Gaza—not as targets, but as victims of relentless bombardment in a war they didn’t choose—I can’t accept the bigotry, zealotry, and callousness these candidates are espousing. They aren’t standing up against ruthless religious violence. They’re promoting it.
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Here’s some of what the candidates said in their remarks.
1. America supports Israel’s territorial claims because we accept the Hebrew Bible.
“As a Christian, I see the Jewish people as my elder brothers and sisters in faith,” said Sen. Tim Scott. “We all serve the one true God: the God of Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob.”
“God knows his people have many lessons to teach the world,” said former Gov. Nikki Haley. “Not only has God blessed Israel; God has blessed those who stand with her.”
“God told Abraham that Israel was for his descendants through Isaac,” said businessman Vivek Ramaswamy. He called Israel “a divine gift, gifted to a divine nation, charged with a divine purpose.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis described the United States as a product and protector of Jewish sovereignty over what is now Israeli and Palestinian territory. “We would not be here today as Americans were it not for what took place in the Holy Land thousands and thousands of years ago,” said DeSantis. “The Judeo-Christian tradition is what Western civilization was built on. It was what this country was built on. And they [Jews] are the caretakers of that important piece of land.”
Ramaswamy and Gov. Doug Burgum quoted Chapter 12 of Genesis. Here’s Ramaswamy’s version:
And the Lord said to Abraham: “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make into you a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name. . . . And I will bless those who bless you. And the one who curses you, I will curse.” . . . And the Lord appeared to Abraham, and he said: “To your seed, I will give this land.”
I’ve heard and read these lines before. I’ve been to Israel and felt the ancient Jewish bond with the land. But Muslims have their own scripture and their own bond.
If the United States defends Jewish territorial claims over Muslim territorial claims based on Jewish scripture and on Christian kinship with Jews, that’s not a foreign policy grounded in universal values. It’s a foreign policy grounded in tribalism. It reduces us to a party in a religious war.
2. Israel should exact vengeance for October 7.
“We will fully support the Israelis in their mission to ensure that Hamas is decimated and these atrocities will be avenged,” Donald Trump told the RJC. “In many ways, they’ll be avenged . . . even beyond what you’re thinking about.”
“Hamas and its allies need to feel the wrath of God,” said Scott. “May they meet the wrath of God with some American military hardware.”
Ramaswamy sketched a more visceral fantasy: “I would love nothing more than for the IDF to put the heads of the top hundred Hamas leaders on stakes and line them up on the Israel-Gaza border.”
Again, I’ve read lines like these before. The Hebrew Bible is full of bloody vengeance exacted by Jews and our God. But wrath and bloodlust have a long history of driving people—including my people—to indiscriminate violence.
3. We should send no humanitarian aid to Gaza.
DeSantis protested that President Joe Biden “wants to send money to the Gaza Strip. They say it’s humanitarian assistance. But we know Hamas will take that assistance.”
Trump also opposed the aid, arguing—falsely—that all of it would go to Hamas. “They don’t take 90 percent. They take 100 percent,” he said.
Pence drew a firm line: “America should make it clear that there will be no aid delivered to Gaza until all hostages are free.”
This is how you rationalize depriving innocent people of food and medicine.
4. The United States should accept no refugees from Gaza.
Trump has previously called for banning all Muslims from entering the United States. At the RJC, he modified this to “ideological screenings for all immigrants.” For example, “If you want to abolish Israel . . . you’re not going to be getting into our country.”
That isn’t harsh enough for DeSantis. He wants a ban on Gazans of any age or political viewpoint, based purely on their nationality. He reminded the RJC that he was “the first candidate to say that we in the United States cannot accept refugees from the Gaza Strip.”
DeSantis’s critics have pointed out that not all Gazans, to put it mildly, are members of Hamas. To this, he replied:
Look, they elected Hamas. . . . They were cheering for Hamas when Hamas perpetrated this [October 7] attack, just like they cheered when al Qaeda knocked down the Twin Towers. They were cheering, Palestinian Arabs, when that happened. So the question isn’t whether you’re all Hamas. The question is: Do they teach young kids to hate Jews? Yes. Do they teach young kids that Israel should be wiped off the map? . . . We can’t vet all this stuff out. What I do know is, if you bring in hundreds of thousands, like people like AOC and the Squad want, you will be importing toxic ideology and the pathologies of the Gaza Strip into our own country.
DeSantis has this all wrong. More than 70 percent of today’s Gazans weren’t even old enough to vote in 2006, when Hamas last won an election there. Since then, Hamas has stayed in power by force. In a poll taken just before the October 7 attack, two-thirds of Gazans said they had little or no trust in the Hamas-led government.
But DeSantis doesn’t care. He equates some “Palestinian Arabs” he saw or heard about in 2001 with the hundreds of thousands of children in Gaza today who weren’t even born then. He treats all these children as presumptively pathological because “they teach young kids to hate Jews.” What he wants, and what he’s constructing, is a general excuse to bar any Gazan refugee.
This isn’t the way to cure indiscriminate hatred of Jews. It’s the way to foment indiscriminate hatred of Palestinians.
5. Only Hamas can be blamed for death or suffering in Gaza.
“Every single life that is lost in this conflict is on the shoulders of Hamas and Hamas alone,” said Trump.
That’s half true. Hamas does bear responsibility for the ongoing deaths in Gaza, because it invaded Israel, murdered hundreds of people, seized hostages, brought them back to Gaza, and is hiding them and itself behind Gazan civilians. It’s daring Israel to fire missiles and drop bombs in population centers.
But to say that Hamas alone bears responsibility, regardless of how many people die in Gaza and in what manner—bombardment, infection, malnutrition—is to give Israel carte blanche. The idea that you can’t be held responsible for anything you do, just because you’re fighting the bad guys, is dangerously corrupting.
6. Israel should act without restraint.
Every candidate who addressed the RJC, with the lone exception of former Gov. Chris Christie, brought up the word restraint, or one of its variants or synonyms, to spurn the idea that Israel should be limited in its military conduct. Haley expressed indignation that “people are calling for restraint.” Burgum complained that Biden was “constraining Israel” and “calling tacitly for Israel to back off.” Pence said Biden “should end all talk of restraint and support Israel’s right to self-defense unconditionally.” Ramaswamy said the United States should tell the world that Israel is free to use “whatever means Israel determines to be in its national self-interest.”
The candidates didn’t just say Biden should stand with Israel in public, as he has. They insisted that even in private, he and other U.S. officials shouldn’t counsel Israel to temper its response. Israel has “a right to go full tilt,” said DeSantis. “We should not be saying one thing in public and then restraining in private. Biden needs to toughen up.” Scott expressed the same complaint.
This is reckless talk. Yes, Israel has every right to defend itself. But if you “end all talk of restraint” and support military action “unconditionally,” you’re inviting war crimes.
7. Israel should match the enemy’s ruthlessness.
This is one of Trump’s favorite themes. He has long argued that scruples are a disadvantage and that we should eliminate that disadvantage by copying the tactics of our worst enemies, including ISIS. At the RJC, he put it this way: “If you don’t do the wars, the peace doesn’t happen. And if you’re not going to be tough and ruthless like they are, it’s not going to happen.”
Trump is too stupid and amoral to recognize the problem with this idea: Yes, you might win by emulating the terrorists. But then you haven’t defeated terrorism. You’ve surrendered to it.
8. Israel is entitled to rule all of Palestine.
Biden should “stop trying to say that it’s incumbent upon Israel to adopt a, quote, ‘two-state solution,’” said DeSantis. “How are you supposed to have a two-state solution with people that don’t believe in your right to exist as a Jewish state?”
Ramaswamy went further: “If Israel wants to at long last abandon the myth of a two-state solution, Israel should go ahead and abandon a two-state solution. The rest of the Arab world can absorb Palestinians, just as the Jews absorbed their people out of twenty-two countries they were kicked out of since 1948.”
This is the logic of ethnic cleansing: If Israel is to remain a Jewish state, and if Palestinians can’t have their own state, then Palestinians must be prevented from choosing their national government, or they must be pushed out.
WHAT THE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES are advocating, in sum, is an abandonment of morals. They’re rationalizing bigotry and cruelty—withholding humanitarian aid, barring child refugees, bombing Gaza without limits—and they’re grounding America’s loyalty to Israel in Jewish and Christian scripture. This isn’t the way to build an alliance against terrorism. It’s the way to feed a religious war.