The candidates on the Republican debate stage on Wednesday were largely united in declaring their full-throated support for the Israeli government in its war with Hamas. But on how to grapple with responses to the conflict within the United States, they differed — a little bit.
When asked how they would respond to antisemitism on college campuses, the candidates vowed to crack down on student protesters, suggesting that pro-Palestinian activists were expressing support for Hamas. Only one, Vivek Ramaswamy, said students should not face retribution, defending their right to free speech.
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina proposed ideological tests for universities to receive federal funding and said that he would deport students on visas who he claimed were “encouraging Jewish genocide.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida played up his role in encouraging the State University System of Florida to ban chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, saying, “We’re not going to use state tax dollars to fund jihad.” He criticized the Biden administration for initiatives to combat “so-called Islamophobia.”
And Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor, suggested that college administrators were more tolerant of antisemitism than they were of racism. “If the K.K.K. were doing this, every college president would be up in arms,” she said. “This is no different. You should treat it exactly the same. Antisemitism is just as awful as racism.”
Mr. Ramaswamy, too, denounced what he called the “scourge of antisemitism” and called students, who he said were “siding with Hamas,” “fools” who “have no idea what the heck they’re even talking about.” But he stopped short of calling for them to face punishment and called Mr. DeSantis and Ms. Haley “pro-censorship.”
“We don’t quash this with censorship, because that creates a worse underbelly,” he said. “We quell it through leadership by calling it out.”
Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, was the only candidate asked about Islamophobia. He referred to his experiences as a United States attorney after the Sept. 11 attacks and said that he had combated hate crimes against Jewish Americans and Muslim Americans in New Jersey.
“It takes leadership to do this,” he said. “You must work with both sides.”