This week, while media attention focused on former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and his controversial views on Israel, another iconoclastic Republican stirred controversy in Israel itself.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) visited Israel as part of a trip that will include visits with Palestinian and Jordanian leaders. In remarks to a Jerusalem think tank, Paul reiterated his view that U.S. foreign aid to Israel and other countries should end.
Paul’s opposition to foreign aid in general has stirred concern both in Israel and among Israel’s supporters in the U.S. Israel is the number one recipient of U.S. foreign aid, and uses the money to strengthen its defenses against terror and regional enemies.
Paul’s opposition has therefore provoked claims that he is anti-Israel–claims that he denies, and which echo concerns that long surrounded his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX).
In Israel, Paul attempted to make clear that his opposition to foreign aid is not motivated by antipathy to the Jewish state. “I would start a little more quickly with those who are enemies of Israel, and enemies of the US,” he said, according to the Jerusalem Post. “I would like to see their aid end more quickly. With regards to Israel, it could be a gradual phenomenon.” He added that foreign aid “sometimes clouds the sovereignty of Israel.”
Theoretically, Paul’s argument is not outrageous. Most economists would acknowledge that foreign aid tends to distort policy choices in the recipient nation. Israel, for example, has a large and unsustainable social welfare system, and foreign aid helps to postpone reforms. Foreign aid also tends to come with conditions, which is why some Israelis, including a few hawkish ones, are (quietly) somewhat sympathetic to Paul’s view.
The problem is context. Israel faces a growing existential threat from Iran, which is not only pursuing nuclear weapons but also arms and funds the Hamas and Hezbollah terror organizations on Israel’s borders. The Obama administration has, outrageously, pressured Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians and interfered with Israeli plans for self-defense against Iran, leaving Israel more isolated on the world stage.
Reducing foreign aid in present circumstances would be an even more drastic step, compromising Israel’s defenses and confirming the impression that the U.S. no longer supports Israel as strongly as it once did.
Paul did well to clarify that he would not seek to reduce aid to Israel today, but even a commitment to future reductions would have a negative effect on the U.S.-Israel alliance–and project weakness to shared enemies.
So while Paul deserves credit for traveling to Israel, and for being forthright with his hosts, his views are still troubling.
To some degree, Paul is burdened by the legacy of his father, who took strident views against Israeli policy and the strong U.S.-Israel relationship. Whereas Rand Paul is careful to note that Israel would be last on his list for foreign aid reductions, Ron Paul frequently places Israel first on his list for criticism.
For example, during the Gaza War of 2008-9, Ron Paul was the only Republican to vote against a House resolution supporting Israel’s right to defend itself (he was joined by four Democrats). And despite his hostility to the United Nations, Ron Paul was one of only three Republicans to vote (along with a disgraceful 33 Democrats) against a resolution rejecting the UN’s Goldstone Report, which falsely alleged Israeli war crimes. The latter vote suggested that Ron Paul was motivated not by concern for American sovereignty, but by hostility to Israel.
That, in turn, casts Ron Paul’s other strong views into doubt. Is he opposed to the Federal Reserve on the basis of a legitimate objection to its lack of accountability and poor track record? Or does he believe–as some of his supporters do, volubly–that it is a vehicle for nefarious interests, including Jewish ones?
Aside from the odiousness of antisemitism, the case for liberty, central to both Ron and Rand Paul’s appeal, is undermined by conspiracy theories that search for hidden enemies manipulating the world for their own benefit. That is sort of thinking motivates the left, and is both dangerous and self-defeating.
It is unfair to judge Rand Paul by his father’s record. He is doing his best to highlight distinctions.
Still, he is not quite there.