WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Republican Jewish Coalition will cosponsor the next Republican presidential debate, a sign that Hamas’ invasion of Israel, and the ensuing war, will take center-stage when the candidates meet in Miami in November.
The announcement on Monday marks the first time a major party has brought in a Jewish group as a cosponsor of a presidential debate. The RJC will be able to put questions directly to the candidates, and CEO Matt Brooks told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that its questions will focus on the war, but may also address domestic issues such as the recent reported spike in antisemitism.
“As the horrific events of the last week have unfolded in Israel, the issue of American foreign policy has taken on an even greater role,” Norm Coleman, the former Minnesota senator and longtime RJC chairman, said in a statement. The debate will come just over a week after the major presidential candidates are due to appear at the RJC’s annual conference in Las Vegas. That venue allows for speeches, but not sparring between candidates.
The RJC’s inclusion in the debate comes at a time of divisions on Israel among Republicans, who had become known for near-uniform support of the country and the policies of its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Some leading figures in the party, including the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, have praised the Biden administration’s robust backing for Israel. Others, like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have accused the Biden administration of undermining Israel. Some, like presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, have questioned the extent of U.S. defense assistance for Israel.
Complicating the party’s pro-Israel calculus, the frontrunner in the field, former President Donald Trump, last week mocked Netanyahu’s handling of the war. That spurred sharp criticism from other candidates, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Additionally, conspiracy theories are circulating on the far right asserting that Netanyahu ignored intelligence ahead of the war as a means to a political end. Those claims have been embraced by figures close to Trump such as Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, a conservative youth movement.
Republicans’ ongoing struggle to elect a speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives has meant that efforts to advance pro-Israel legislation and aid have stalled. The speaker seat has been vacant since a group of far-right Republicans engineered the ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy earlier this month.
Brooks said in an interview that it was not yet clear how his group would participate in the debate. In previous debates, moderators occasionally cut away to representatives of interest groups to ask one or more questions.
“I don’t know who it will be that represents the RJC yet, we haven’t made that determination,” he said. “But whoever is there as the representative of the RJC either in person, live or via taped remarks will ask the questions.”
The other two co-sponsors of the Nov. 8 debate are Salem Media, a conservative broadcaster, and Rumble, an online video platform for right-wing views.