The Daily Wire commentators are now in rival camps
Recent developments in America’s conservative media landscape have illuminated deepening fissures over Israel, with implications that could ripple through the broader Republican Party. Boiling-over tensions between commentators Candace Owens and Ben Shapiro over their differing views on Israel’s actions in the conflict with Hamas exemplify this divide.
Shapiro, co-founder of The Daily Wire and an ardent supporter of Israel, publicly criticised Owens, a Right-wing activist and contributor to his company, for her stance on the conflict. Owens, taking what some may consider an isolationist or “America First” position, has condemned what she saw as “genocide” by Israel in Gaza. Shapiro argued that such comments were “disgraceful” and “disreputable”, highlighting her comparison of Israel to the pre-segregation South (interestingly, Owens, who is black, is much closer in alignment with the views of African Americans than Republicans on this issue).
Owens’s comments, which did not explicitly name Israel but condemned genocide in strong terms, sparked varied reactions. While she received backing from certain quarters, other figures, like former Donald Trump advisor Pastor Darrell Scott, suggested she was betraying her supporters. Owens has repeatedly defended her position, insisting on the universality of her anti-genocide stance and refusing to back down or apologise.
Inciting controversy within the Right is nothing new for Owens. She’s been embroiled in storms surrounding her defence of rapper Kanye West, alongside whom she wore a “White Lives Matter” shirt at a Paris fashion show, against accusations of antisemitism. She has also been previously criticised for comments about Adolf Hitler and opposing Covid-19 vaccines for children. These actions and statements have attracted significant backlash, but her ability to remain comfortably within the Rightwing ecosystem in spite of these contrarian remarks suggests she has at least some institutional support for her positions.
Indeed, her stance on Israel reveals a broader trend within the Republican Party and its fringes. Traditionally, the party has shown strong support for the Jewish state. However, the rise of the “America First” movement and figures such as Owens signals a shift. This rift is further complicated by the presence of antisemitic elements within what was once the alt-Right but has now fragmented into multiple successor groups — even reaching into the mainstream, as evidenced by the recent exposure of political influencer and Ron DeSantis supporter Pedro Gonzalez’s antisemitic messages by Breitbart News. These messages, dating from 2019 to 2020, highlighted the ongoing links between opposition to “international finance” and a willingness of some on the Right to trade in antisemitic, “Happy Merchant”-style stereotypes.
The Owens-Shapiro split and the Gonzalez controversy point to a party at a crossroads, grappling with its stance on Israel and broader questions of ideology and identity. While mainstream conservative Republicans like Shapiro continue to support Israel, a growing isolationist faction, combined with the extremely online Right’s antisemitic undercurrents, suggests an ideological battle that could redefine the party’s future direction — or at least influence some of its primaries and policymaking.
This has been the case on the Left, which has witnessed significant internecine feuding between the pro-Gaza “Squad” and the Democratic Party mainstream of strong pro-Israel supporters like Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, AIPAC-backed Congressman Ritchie Torres, and shambolic Pennsylvania senator John Fetterman.
The tension between Owens and Shapiro over Israel represents more than a personal disagreement: it’s a microcosm of a growing struggle within the Republican Party, particularly notable given remarks from Trump suggesting he has moved away from his 2016 statement that “No one is more pro-Israel than I am.”
As the party navigates these turbulent waters, its stance on Israel, a longstanding cornerstone of Republican foreign policy, may undergo further shifts, influencing its internal dynamics, its approach to international relations, and — most notably — the 2024 presidential election. The final fate of Israel may hang in the balance, too.