WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina on Monday praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for showing what he called “restraint” after Hamas attacked Israel over a week ago.
The Republican presidential candidate said Netanyahu “waited” and showed “patience” and “humanity” in response to the Oct. 7 attack.
Israel launched airstrikes in Gaza the day of the attack and Netanyahu declared war with Hamas, vowing to inflict an “unprecedented price.” The war has become the deadliest of five Gaza wars for both sides, with more than 4,000 dead.
“One of the first things that Israel’s done is they waited,” Scott said about Israel as he spoke at an event focused on U.S. foreign policy and national security at Georgetown University in Washington.
“Now how Prime Minister Netanyahu had the kind of restraint to refrain from immediate action, it just talks about the morality and the humanity that we see coming from Netanyahu into Gaza,” the senator said.
Hamas militants’ surprise attacks on Israel have left 1,400 dead and retaliatory strikes have killed at least 2,778 Palestinians.
Scott also underscored the importance of America’s allyship with Israel and said “America should stand shoulder-to-shoulder, back-to-back, with no daylight with Israel.”
He said the U.S. should move more firepower into the region to “be responsive” and said that U.S. special forces should be prepared to help rescue American hostages in Gaza.
Scott also criticized front-runner Republican candidate Donald Trump for his criticism of Netanyahu days after the attack. He said the former president’s comments were “terrible,” “not helpful” and “heading in the wrong direction.”
“We should be loyal to our allies while being lethal to our adversaries. Anything less than that jeopardizes life,” he said.
The senator said he somewhat agreed with GOP rival candidate Ron DeSantis, who said the United States should not take in any Palestinian refugees if they flee the Gaza Strip. DeSantis, the Florida governor, said the U.S. should not accept any refugees if they can escape Gaza because they “are all antisemitic.”
Scott said not accepting refugees from Gaza is “the right decision” because the president cannot determine in the middle of the conflict “who is safe to bring in, who’s not safe to bring in.”
“I don’t think that they’re all antisemitic. I just can’t tell you who’s who,” he said.
Scott was asked about the killing of a 6-year-old Muslim boy in Illinois who was stabbed to death in an alleged hate crime. Authorities said the boy and his mother were attacked by the family’s landlord who was upset over the Israel-Hamas war.
“Disgusting,” Scott said quickly. “It sounds like murder. Lock him up.”
After he was asked to elaborate, the senator, who often takes on the mannerism of a preacher, then leaped up in to the aisles. Scott, who is Black, spoke about having grown up in the Deep South and said he understands racism and discrimination.
“Thankful that our country has made tremendous progress in my lifetime,” he said. But of the man accused of the Illinois attack, he said, “I can’t imagine that level of hate.”
Scott was sitting for the conversation at an event co-hosted by The Associated Press and Georgetown’s Institute of Politics and Public Service. The event marks the second in a series of talks the organizations are hosting on the topic with 2024 GOP candidates.
Former Vice President Mike Pence sat for the inaugural talk earlier this month.
Scott’s sit-down comes as one of the super political action committees supporting his candidacy clawed back some of the advertising airtime it had purchased this fall, with its chair writing in a memo to backers that “we aren’t going to waste our money when the electorate isn’t focused or ready for” an alternative to Trump. The memo said the group would wait until closer to Iowa’s leadoff caucuses to reconsider.
The South Carolina senator has not made foreign policy a mainstay of his campaign, instead seeking to focus on a positive message swathed in his Christian faith and an appeal for more individual responsibility in America.
Last week, he gave a speech on Israel at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington in which he decried Hamas militants’ attack on Israel as filling Americans “with heartbreak, and frankly, righteous anger,” but blamed the Biden administration for the violence.
“While Hamas carried out these attacks, Joe Biden has blood on his hands,” Scott said in the speech. “His weakness invited the attack.”
He also recently sought to merge his Senate duties with foreign policy strides that may help his 2024 GOP presidential campaign, calling for a Senate probe into funding sources that he and other Republicans allege may have been tied to Hamas militants’ attack on Israel.
Scott called for the Senate Banking Committee — on which he sits as ranking member — to hold a hearing with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to probe roughly $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets recently released to an account in Qatar.
As he campaigns against rivals including a former vice president, a former United Nations ambassador and current and foreign governors, Scott has at times been asked how he would square his apparent lack of executive experience with his qualifications to lead the country.
He has held out as evidence his decade of service on Senate committees, including Banking, Finance, Armed Services and Foreign Relations.
In the memo from Trust in the Mission PAC, co-chair Rob Collins said the group would continue with door knocking and other efforts, with an eye toward potentially reallocating resources as actual votes draw nearer.
“Until the experts recognize Tim is the only candidate that can capture the nomination and defeat President Joe Biden, there will be a very expensive and loud next few months — full of sound and fury and signifying nothing,” Collins wrote in the memo, which was obtained by the AP and first reported on by Politico.
“So, we are doing what would be obvious in the business world but will mystify politicos — we aren’t going to waste our money when the electorate isn’t focused or ready for a Trump alternative. We have done the research. We have studied the focus groups. We have been following Tim on the trail. This electorate is locked up and money spent on mass media isn’t going to change minds until we get a lot closer to voting.”
Price reported from New York.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP