Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had a heated campaign encounter with a voter who suggested that he supports the “annihilation” of Palestinians.
DeSantis was confronted by a man who said that the governor’s stance on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict had cost him a 2024 GOP presidential primary vote during a campaign stop in Littleton, New Hampshire, on Thursday. A clip of the encounter was shared to X, formerly Twitter, by CBS reporter Aaron Navarro.
The October 7 surprise attack by Gaza-based Islamist militant group Hamas was the deadliest Palestinian militant assault on Israel in history. Israel subsequently launched its heaviest and deadliest airstrikes ever on Gaza.
As of Friday, at least 1,300 people had been killed in Israel, the Associated Press (AP) reported, citing the Israeli government. Over 1,800 people had been killed in Gaza, according to authorities there, AP said.
“Ron, what do you think about the annihilation and decapitation of all the Palestinians in Gaza right now?” the man in New Hampshire asked DeSantis. “They’ve basically bulldozed the whole … I worked in the Gaza Strip and worked in Palestinian refugee camps.”
“But they are not decapitating baby’s heads!” DeSantis replied. “They are not intentionally doing that.”
The man then said that Israel was “blowing up entire residential buildings,” citing videos that he said were broadcast by Al Jazeera, which is owned by the Qatari government.
DeSantis responded that he would “be very careful” with that outlet, as it is “funded by a lot of these Middle East countries.”
The man said that he did not “think they are faking pictures of families carrying their babies in, totally dead,” prompting another person in the crowd to claim “they fake pictures like that all the time.”
“Israel has been killing Palestinians for the whole time that Gaza has existed,” the man continued.
DeSantis responded by asserting that Hamas was intentionally getting civilians killed by using them as “human shields,” saying that Israel had warned Gaza residents to evacuate areas it was planning to attack.
“Israel put in a warning,” said DeSantis. “Hamas tells them not to leave. Hamas wants them to be human shields. That’s their tactic, technique and procedure.”
“How many other armed forces give warnings to get out before they go?” he added. “I think Israel’s probably the only one in the world that does that.”
The man went on to say that he did not “condone the killing of any innocent civilians or what Hamas did in the kibbutzes, but Israel is doing the exact same thing with [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, who is a radical right-wing crazy person.”
“I see hundreds of Palestinian families that are dead and they have nowhere to go because they can’t leave Gaza,” the man said. “Because no one’s opening their borders.”
“You bring up a really good point: Why aren’t these Arab countries willing to absorb some of the Palestinian Arabs?” replied DeSantis. “They will not do it.”
The exchanged ended with the man telling the governor, “You had my vote, but you don’t now!”
Newsweek reached out for comment to the DeSantis campaign via online press contact form on Friday.
DeSantis’ remark on “decapitating baby’s heads” was an apparent reference to a claim from earlier this week that Hamas beheaded 40 babies during the initial attack.
The claim may have originated from reporter Nicole Zedek of the Tel Aviv news channel i24, who said on Tuesday that she was told of the alleged beheadings by an Israeli “commander” surveying the aftermath of Hamas attacking a kibbutz near the Gaza border.
While the claim spread rapidly online and sparked mass outrage, it is not clear whether the infant beheadings occurred.
The Israeli Defense Forces told Sky News on Wednesday that it could not confirm the claim, saying only that “a massacre” occurred at the kibbutz “in which women, children and toddlers and elderly were brutally butchered.”