Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his presidential campaign and a super PAC backing him are inaccurately depicting a comment Republican rival Nikki Haley made on CNN on Sunday about the people of Gaza.
The DeSantis camp has been claiming this week that Haley, the former US ambassador to the United Nations and governor of South Carolina, said in a CNN interview that the US should take in refugees from Gaza – the Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas, the Islamist group that perpetrated the terrorist attacks that killed more than 1,400 people in Israel this month.
On Monday, the pro-DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down, posted a video clip of Haley’s remarks and claimed the video showed Haley arguing in favor of “bringing Gaza refugees to America.” The same day, the DeSantis campaign posted a video of DeSantis responding to what the campaign claimed was “Nikki Haley wanting to import Gazan refugees to the U.S.” On Tuesday, DeSantis claimed in a Fox interview that Haley had been speaking on CNN about bringing people from Gaza to the US.
All of these claims are wrong.
Facts First: Haley is opposed to the US accepting refugees from Gaza, and she did not say on CNN that the US should take in these refugees. DeSantis and his allies have been falsely portraying Haley’s response to a question that was not even about US refugee policy toward Gaza.
Rather, Haley was asked by CNN anchor Jake Tapper for her thoughts about DeSantis having said that while the people of Gaza are not all Hamas, “they are all antisemitic” and “none of them” believes Israel has the right to exist. Haley responded that many Gazans don’t want to be ruled by Hamas, just as many Iranians oppose the regime that governs them, and the US should continue to distinguish between terrorists and civilians.
She did not say the US should take in any of these Gaza civilians as refugees. And in subsequent remarks, Haley has expressed firm opposition to the US accepting refugees from Gaza. She argued on Fox on Tuesday that “Hamas-sympathizing” Middle Eastern countries should take in these refugees instead.
You can read the full transcript of Haley’s Sunday exchange with Tapper here. The exchange was not about whether the US should accept refugees from Gaza.
Here’s what actually happened.
Tapper noted that a high proportion of Gaza residents are children and asked Haley if she thinks “the US, Israel, Egypt needs to be doing more to help these innocent Palestinian civilians get out of harm’s way.” Haley said, “You know what, we should care about the Palestinian citizens, especially the innocent ones, because they didn’t ask for this.”
But then she continued: “But where are the Arab countries? Where are they? Where is Qatar? Where is Lebanon? Where is Jordan? Where is Egypt? Do you know we give Egypt over a billion dollars a year? Why aren’t they opening the gates? Why aren’t they taking the Palestinians? You know why? Because they know they can’t vet them, and they don’t want Hamas in their neighborhood. So why would Israel want them in their neighborhood?”
After Haley completed her answer, Tapper asked her to listen to a clip of DeSantis’ assertions in Iowa on Saturday that not all Gazans are Hamas but that all are antisemitic and none thinks Israel has the right to exist. DeSantis made these claims in the course of arguing that the US should not accept refugees from Gaza, but CNN did not play the portion of his comments about refugees to Haley during the interview; Tapper was specifically asking Haley for her thoughts on how DeSantis characterized Gazans’ beliefs.
Before he got to his question, Tapper read out some results from a July poll of Gaza, which found, among other things, that 50% of Gazans want Hamas to “stop calling for Israel’s destruction, and instead accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.” Tapper then said: “So I’m not really certain that Governor DeSantis has a real read on the difference between Hamas and the people of Gaza. What was your response when you heard what Governor DeSantis said?”
Haley responded by invoking her two-year tenure as US ambassador to the UN in 2017 and 2018, when she said many Gazans indeed opposed Hamas.
“I dealt with this every day for two years. And what I can tell you is, you have to realize that, whether we’re talking about Gazans and Palestinians, all of them don’t – you’ve got half of them at the time that I was there didn’t want to be under Hamas’ rule. They didn’t want to have terrorists overseeing them. They knew that they were living a terrible life because of Hamas. You had the other half that supported Hamas and wanted to be a part of that. We see that with Iran too. The Iranian people don’t want to be under that Iranian regime. They don’t – we saw what happened to Mahsa Amini. We saw how they treat them,” Haley said.
Haley continued: “There are so many of these people who want to be free from this terrorist rule. They want to be free from all of that. And America’s always been sympathetic to the fact that you can separate civilians from terrorists. And that’s what we have to do. But right now, we can never take our eyes off of the terrorists. I mean, what Hamas did was beyond thuggish, brutal, and sick.”
Again, nowhere did Haley say that the US should take in Gazans as refugees.
The DeSantis camp has emphasized Haley’s comment that “America’s always been sympathetic to the fact that you can separate civilians from terrorists.”
DeSantis said in a Fox interview on Tuesday: “Over the weekend, she was taking issue with what I said, saying that you can separate someone who’s Hamas in Gaza with somebody who’s more of a freedom-lover. So why would she be talking about that we can vet these people if she wasn’t saying that they should come to this country? We would have no role in vetting them unless you’re bringing them to this country.”
But Haley did not use the word “vet” on CNN in the context of the US; when she did use the word, she was talking about how Middle Eastern countries cannot vet refugees from Gaza. And it’s a baseless leap to claim that Haley was talking about refugees when she spoke of how the US should distinguish terrorists from Hamas-opposing civilians.
There are numerous possible reasons other than refugee policy that someone could find it important for the US government to understand the beliefs of Gaza’s population. For example, Gazans’ views about Hamas could be pertinent to the durability of Hamas’ control over Gaza. Gazans’ views could also affect the willingness of a member of Congress or a president to authorize humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, or affect their positions on Israel’s military actions.
In a new television ad attacking Haley over her comments on CNN, the pro-DeSantis super PAC used a question mark that appeared to slightly hedge its claim about what Haley was saying – putting text over the video of Haley’s remarks that reads, “NIKKI HALEY ON GAZA REFUGEES?”
But the ad – which juxtaposes some of Haley’s words with a clip of DeSantis expressing opposition to the US taking refugees from Gaza – is misleading nonetheless. A single question mark is not nearly sufficient to explain that these Haley comments never even mentioned the US taking in refugees.
In a Wednesday email, a spokesperson for the super PAC repeated DeSantis’ argument that Haley’s comment about how America needs to “separate civilians from terrorists” was about refugees. The spokesperson also said, “DeSantis said Gazans are antisemitic and do not believe in Israel’s right to exist BECAUSE he was arguing against bringing Gaza refugees to the U.S. So it is fair to view Haley’s rejection of DeSantis’ statements in that context.” And the spokesperson criticized Haley’s past positions on US refugee policy.