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Candidates spar over Israel, Jew-hatred at fourth GOP primary debate

“Joe Biden will say he supports Israel and then they do nothing but try to kneecap them every step of the way,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

From left: 2024 GOP presidential candidates Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy at the fourth Republican primary debate in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Dec. 7, 2023. Source: YouTube/NewsNation.
From left: 2024 GOP presidential candidates Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy at the fourth Republican primary debate in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Dec. 7, 2023. Source: YouTube/NewsNation.

Four 2024 Republican presidential candidates clashed over their support for Israel and their foreign-policy visions on Wednesday at the fourth presidential primary debate in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Responding to a question about whether he would commit U.S. ground troops to rescue American citizens who are hostages in Gaza, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis accused the Biden administration of hobbling Israel’s war effort against Hamas and failing to respond to Iranian aggression.

“Joe Biden will say he supports Israel and then they do nothing but try to kneecap them every step of the way. You should not try to direct their war effort. We should work together with them so that they can bring Hamas to heel,” DeSantis said, referring to the current president.

“We do have troops there that Biden is leaving basically as sitting ducks, and you have the Iranians that are attacking these troops and he’s responding with basically pinpricks,” he added. “You harm an American service member, you’re gonna have hell to pay when I’m president.”

DeSantis said that Iran is the underlying actor in the conflict and that Biden was failing to hold them to account.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie criticized DeSantis for failing to answer directly if he would commit troops to rescue hostages.

“This is the problem with the first three debates. Ron gets asked a question and he doesn’t answer it,” Christie said. “If they had a plan which showed me that we could get them out safely, you’re damn right I’d send the American army in there to get our people home and get them home now.”

Vivek Ramaswamy, a technology entrepreneur, repeatedly clashed with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley over her positions on foreign policy and other subjects. He also maintained that his call to cut U.S. aid to Israel was a pro-Israel position.

“I believe I have the strongest pro-Israel position actually on this stage, even though it’s a little bit different than the standard GOP talking points,” he said. “The founding vision of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, the ‘George Washington’ figure of Israel, what did he believe? He believed that we don’t want, as Israel, to depend on the fleeting sympathies of the West and have our hands tied.”

As in previous debates, Ramaswamy made several personal attacks on Haley, saying that the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations couldn’t distinguish the United States and Israel on a map; that she couldn’t name three provinces in Ukraine that she would want to defend; and that “you can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney, it is still a fascist neocon.”

Haley, during one exchange, correctly named three Ukrainian provinces that have been entirely or partially occupied by Russia. She also argued that supporting Ukraine and Israel are related.

“Russia was losing that war with Ukraine. Putin had hit rock bottom. They had raised the draft age to 65. He was getting drones from Iran, missiles from North Korea. And so what happened? When he hit rock bottom, all of a sudden, his other friend Iran—Hamas goes and invades Israel and butchers those people on Putin’s birthday,” Haley said.

“There is no one happier right now than Putin because all of the attention America had on Ukraine suddenly went to Israel,” she added.

She also said that she supported defining anti-Zionism as antisemitism and that she would strip the tax-exempt status of universities that fail to protect students from antisemitic demonstrations.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump has so far not attended any of the Republican primary debates. In national polling averages, he has a nearly 50-point lead over DeSantis and Haley, at around 13% and 10%, respectively. Christie and Ramaswamy poll in the single digits.

The Republican National Committee has not scheduled any additional debates, though CNN announced on Thursday that it will host two debates in January ahead of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary.

The 2024 Iowa caucus is scheduled for Jan. 15, and the New Hampshire primary for Jan. 23.

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