Israel takes center stage at third Republican debate

The five presidential candidates were largely in uniform in their support for the Jewish state and the destruction of Hamas.

By Andrew Bernard, JNS

Questions about Israel’s war against Hamas and threats to the U.S. Jewish community dominated the first half of the third Republican presidential primary debate on Wednesday in Miami.

The five candidates, who were largely uniform in their support for the Jewish state, were asked what their advice would be to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I will be telling Bibi: ‘Finish the job once and for all with these butchers Hamas,’” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “They’re terrorists. They’re massacring innocent people. They would wipe every Jew off the globe if they could.”

Nikki Haley, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a former South Carolina governor, said she had already spoken with Netanyahu.

“The first thing I said to him when it happened was I said, ‘Finish them,’” she said. “The last thing we need to do is to tell Israel what to do. The only thing we should be doing is supporting them and eliminating Hamas.”

Matt Brooks, CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which co-sponsored the debate, asked the candidates what they would say to Jewish students alarmed by the dramatic rise in antisemitism on college campuses.

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Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy claimed that some of his opponents supported “censorship” in their opposition to pro-Palestinian campus groups.

“We don’t quash this with censorship because that creates a worse underbelly,” he said. “We quell it through leadership by calling it out.”

Ramaswamy also hit out at the other candidates personally, saying that Haley—and by implication DeSantis—was “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels” and criticizing Haley’s daughter for having a TikTok account.

“You’re just scum,” Haley said, in response to Ramswamy’s mention of her daughter.

Ramaswamy also described Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, as “a Nazi in its ranks, the comedian in cargo pants.”

Former President Donald Trump, who has consistently led the Republican primary in national polls by 30 to 40 points, did not attend Wednesday’s debate.