CRESTON, Iowa — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Saturday that the U.S. should not accept refugees from Gaza as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians flee from the north to the south, following Israeli government warnings to evacuate before an anticipated ground invasion.
“I don’t know what Biden’s going to do, but we cannot accept people from Gaza into this country as refugees,” DeSantis told an audience of caucusgoers at an event here sponsored by the super PAC Never Back Down.
Onstage before the crowd of about 50 people in this rural town southwest of Des Moines, DeSantis said other Arab states should absorb the refugees. But delving deeper into his reasoning, he offered up a sweeping characterization of the fleeing Palestinians.
“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 baselessly claimed.
Some of DeSantis’ fellow Republican presidential candidates would not go quite as far as he did Saturday.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, answering questions following remarks at the New Hampshire Republican Party’s Leadership Summit in Nashua, stopped short of saying the U.S. should not accept refugees but emphasized regional responsibility in supporting them.
“We’ve continued to work with Egypt to provide safe passage for American citizens, and we should continue to work with our folks that we can in order to make sure that there’s a passage,” Scott said. He did not respond to a follow-up question about where specifically fleeing Palestinians should settle.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson echoed the sentiment, saying that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza “is not a United States refugee issue” and that countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia should “step up” their responsibility to accept Gazans.
Hutchinson, however, cautioned against DeSantis’ characterization of the Palestinian people as antisemitic, telling reporters in New Hampshire that “it’s a danger any time that you categorize a group of people as being simply antisemitic.”
Despite the criticism, DeSantis wholeheartedly defended his remarks when he was asked to respond to Hutchinson’s comments just hours later outside a cafe in Bedford, Iowa.
“I will challenge anyone to say that in some of these countries that virulent antisemitism is not the norm,” DeSantis shot back, adding that “if you’re not willing to acknowledge that, then you’ve got your head in the sand.”
Iowa state Rep. Bill Gustoff said in an interview, “I’m always reticent to characterize anybody of any group to be ‘all’ this way or that way.” Gustoff, a Republican who has endorsed DeSantis’ presidential bid, said he had not heard DeSantis’ comments, but he said: “I think the sentiment among Palestinians would be antisemitic. That doesn’t mean all Palestinians are antisemitic.”
Dennis Eggenburg, 57, a supporter of former President Donald Trump in Muscatine, Iowa, said “maybe” refugees could come in but they would have to be “well-vetted.” He added that he thinks the U.S. already has enough immigrants coming across the southern border and that he sees a difference between Palestinians and Ukrainians.
“Palestinian refugees I just wouldn’t trust,” he said. “I wouldn’t trust who they are, if they’re terrorists. Ukraine, I don’t think you’re going to get that kind of problem.”
DeSantis continued to address the resettlement issue at events later Saturday in Glenwood and Council Bluffs, reiterating to voters that he would not accept Palestinian refugees as president, but he made no further mention of his earlier characterization of Gazans as prejudiced.
His account on the social media platform X still features a post showing video of his comments.
At least 1,300 people have been killed in Israel in the terrorist attack, and thousands more have been injured as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues. In Gaza, over 1,900 people have been killed and more than 7,600 have been injured. According to the State Department, the toll of American deaths has risen to 29.
Right now, the Rafah border crossing, which sits next to the Sinai Peninsula in northeast Egypt, would be the only exit out of Gaza. But it remains closed.
Israel has become a top issue in the Republican presidential race, splintering the party over the issue. Trump has faced criticism from all sides for praising Hezbollah and criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while some Republicans have praised President Joe Biden for his response to the war.
On Thursday, DeSantis signed an executive order authorizing Florida to charter flights to get Floridians stuck in Israel back to the U.S.
“We’re going to be sending our own planes, and we’re going to be bringing people right back to Florida,” DeSantis said Thursday in Littleton, New Hampshire. “You know, you can’t just sit around waiting for things to happen; you got to make things happen.”
The Biden administration has also announced that it is chartering flights to get Americans out of Israel.