An attack by pro-Palestinian progressives on an Israeli-owned business in Merrimack, N.H., was a hot topic on the First in the Nation campaign trail Tuesday, as both Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley denounced the anti-Israel violence. And both warned that unless the issue of campus antisemitism is addressed, the problem will grow.

“I thought it was disgraceful,” DeSantis told supporters at a town hall in Manchester Tuesday morning. “I’m glad the community is rallying around that company.”

DeSantis was responding to a question from Merrimack GOP state Rep. Jeanine Notter about the situation in Israel and its spillover into her district on Monday. That was when out-of-state activists with the group Palestine Action US launched an early-morning “action” at the New Hampshire location of Elbit Systems of America. The protesters sprayed profane and anti-Israel graffiti, smashed windows, and attempted to lock employees in the building before three of them made it to the roof with what police called “incendiary devices.”

The Merrimack facility has about 650 local employees and is owned by Israel-based Elbit Systems, the Jewish nation’s largest defense contractor. Granite State politicians on both sides of the partisan aisle denounced the attack as “antisemitic.” Three of the activists were arrested on multiple charges.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) speaks to a town hall in Manchester, N.H. on November 21, 2023.

“This is a sickness, particularly on our university campuses,” DeSantis told the town hall. “MIT says most of this is being done by foreign students, and when I’m president, if a student is on a foreign visa, they don’t have a right to be here — it’s a privilege. If you’re on a foreign student visa and you’re making common cause with Hamas, I’m canceling your visa and sending you home.”

As U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley was known as a staunch supporter of Israel. She told NHJournal Tuesday that the antisemitic rhetoric and violence on college campuses, and in incidents like the one in Merrimack, is “horrific. And it’s happening all over the country.”

One solution she said she would implement as president “is to change the definition of antisemitism to include anti-Zionism. Anyone who says Israel doesn’t have the right to exist is in favor of genocide.”

And, Haley said, there is a double standard applied to hate that targets Jews.

“If these incidents were the KKK, everyone would be up in arms. We need to treat it exactly the same way, treat it as the hate that it is,” Haley said. “If we don’t start really coming down on these people, it will get out of control, as demonstrated by the fact that it’s in Merrimack, New Hampshire.

“Expect more if you don’t start doing something about these people,” Haley added.

NHJournal also asked DeSantis about efforts by some GOP state Senators to get the University of New Hampshire to fire a far-Left professor over her antisemitic public statements. In particular, Professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein has compared Israel to Nazi Germany and Hamas to the Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during WWII.

The Florida governor has some experience in this area. His administration is being sued for ordering the deactivation of groups connected to the National Students for Justice in Palestine organization in the state’s university system.

SJP is known for chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free” and calling for “globalizing the Intifada.” (The Intifada is a movement of violence in the name of Palestinians that has claimed the lives of hundreds of Israeli citizens.)

The group has already been suspended at Columbia University after it celebrated the October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel and Brandeis University for saying it “openly supports Hamas.

Does DeSantis believe legislators should get involved in cases like the one at UNH?

“These are ultimately institutions that are funded why tax dollars and they’re supposed to serve the public,” DeSantis said. “That doesn’t mean politicians are micromanaging every part of a university, but you have the right to set out what the mission should be. And we don’t want our universities to be about imposing an ideological agenda.”

DeSantis noted that, in a case like Prescod-Weinstein, Florida law mandates “all tenured professors must undergo review every five years and can be let go for poor performance.” The result has been “cycling out some of the left of the left Marxist activists,” DeSantis said, and accusations from the mainstream media of a “brain drain.”

“And my point has always been, if Florida is losing Marxist professors, that is not a negative for the state of Florida. That is a positive,” DeSantis said.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire politicos continue to react to the Merrimack attack. Several Republicans are reportedly discussing the possibility of a public display of support for Elbit Systems and its employees, though no details have yet been released.

Former GOP state Sen. Gary Daniels, whose district included Merrimack, issued a statement denouncing the “out of state, leftwing, liberal activists targeting a Jewish-owned business simply because of the ethnicity of the owners.

“It is time for those on the left to take a serious stance against the prejudices within their own ranks,” Daniels said. “The response by the NH House Democratic Caucus, condemning ‘Islamophobia’ in the wake of this attack, is a prime example of the Democrats’ complacency in deplorable actions like this.”