Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Palestine Square will be highlighting candidates’ statements and declarations on Israel, Palestine and related matters, such as the Iran nuclear agreement.
For our third entry in the Special Series on the 2016 Presidential Election:
Republican – Senator Rand Paul:
2010 Senate Campaign
No 2016 candidate has exhibited a public transformation on Israel/Palestine as remarkable as the senator from Kentucky.
In an interview prior to his 2010 election, Rand related his comments to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC): “I understand that Israel is the only democracy in that part of the world, I understand the historical Judeo-Christian kinship we have with them, but I won’t always just be a rubber stamp [where] we just give them all of our money. So I will question what we give and how much we give.”
He added that Israel “can work in concert” with the United States, however, that alliance cannot be a “rubber stamp for maybe everything Israel wants” and should be determined by “our national security first.”
In a February 2011 interview with ABC News, Paul expressed a similar sentiment:
“I want to be known as a friend of Israel, but not with money you don’t have. We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries, even if they are our friends.”
A Google search will turn up other media appearances where Paul calls for ending aid to Israel.
His 2012 fiscal year budget proposal offered this bald statement: “Eliminate all international assistance.”
Israel was the only affected nation to be specifically addressed (p. 36):
“While this budget proposal does eliminate foreign aid to Israel, it is not meant to . . . single out one of America’s most important allies. . . . Israel’s ability to conduct foreign policy, regain economic dominance, and support itself without the heavy hand of U.S. interests and policies, will only strengthen the Israeli community.”
In a subsequent interview, Paul demurred that proposed aid cuts to Israel are incidental to his budget’s purpose: “We had $500 billion of cuts. The cuts to that one particular country were three-fifths of one percent of it.”
In a January 2013 trip to Israel, Paul maintained his stance against all foreign aid, but told his Israeli hosts he’d “start a little more quickly [cutting aid for] those who are enemies of Israel and enemies of the United States” while aid earmarked for Israel “could be gradual[ly]” phased out.
Paul argued that an aid-free, fiscally solvent America would be better for Israel: “It will be harder to be a friend of Israel if we are out of money. It will be harder to defend Israel if we destroy our country in the process.”
Paul’s initial message was unambiguous, but as his presidential ambitions grew he adopted a different stance. Support for Israel is essentially sacrosanct in the Republican Party, especially among Evangelicals. Furthermore, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson—the most prominent Republican donor save for the Koch brothers—is a hawkish supporter of the Jewish state who can be expected to shun any candidate even remotely critical or distant towards Israel.
The New Paul
In August 2013, Paul started singing a new tune when he took objection to a reporter’s observation that he had proposed aid cuts to Israel:
“I haven’t really proposed that in the past. We’ve never had a legislative proposal to do that. [. . .] That has not been a position — a legislative position — we have introduced to phase out or get rid of Israel’s aid. [. . .] I voted just this week to give money — more money — to the Iron Dome, so don’t mischaracterize my position on Israel.”
For many observers, Paul’s attempt to rebrand himself as a supporter of foreign aid to Israel was implausible given his past statements and budget proposal.
Paul’s statement that he never introduced legislation to cut aid to Israel is not wholly inaccurate. His aforementioned March 2012 budget proposal was re-released in amended form in May 2011. The amended text scrapped any mention of Israel and placed a foreign aid cap of $5 billion, which would be enough to cover Israel’s aid budget; the amended text was introduced on the Senate floor.
“In 2011, Sen. Paul proposed a budget resolution that did not include certain foreign assistance programs in an effort to balance the budget in five years. Subsequent budget proposals made by Sen. Paul have included up to $5 billion for foreign assistance to account for U.S.-Israel security interests.”
The above statement was sent to Hotair (August 2014). In March 2015, Paul’s staff sent a similar letter to BuzzFeed.
Since 2014, Paul’s office has been vociferous in challenging any perception that the senator is opposed to aid to Israel or that he ever held such a position.
Stand With Israel Act
A perusal of our Congressional Monitor will show an abundance of pro-Israel legislation introduced during every Congressional session by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Many representatives sponsor pro-Israel legislation by the end of their first year in Congress, but Paul did not jump on the proverbial band wagon until his fourth year.
Eager to prove his newfound pro-Israel bona fides, Paul introduced the “Stand With Israel Act of 2014,” which adopted a position more extreme than the Israeli government: It would mandate an end to “any direct United States assistance, loan guarantee, or debt relief to the Palestinian Authority, or any affiliated governing entity or leadership organization.”
The Palestinians, however, can avoid aid suspension if they adhere to Paul’s conditions:
(1) formally recognized the right of Israel to
exist as a Jewish state;
(2) publicly recognized the state of Israel;
(3) renounced terrorism;
(4) purged all individuals with terrorist ties
from security services;
(5) terminated funding of anti-American and
(6) publicly pledged to not engage in war with
(7) honored previous diplomatic agreements.
The legislation did not make it out of the Committee on Foreign Relations. In March, he reintroduced the same legislation (“Stand With Israel Act of 2015”), but appears unlikely to pass his signature act on Israel and Palestine.
Paul’s punitive measures for the Palestinians were thoughtlessly chosen. He singled out the one Palestinian institution that is an asset for Israel. The PA survives thanks to international donors and its collapse would force Israel to bear the full cost of occupation in treasure and boots. As currently structured, the PA enables an affordable and (in the short term, at least) sustainable Israeli occupation rather than fulfilling its ostensible mission of midwifing the State of Palestine.
If Paul thought an act titled “Stand With Israel” would ingratiate him with pro-Israel groups, he missed his mark.
Operation Protective Edge
Paul cosponsored Senate Resolution 498: “Expressing the sense of the Senate regarding United States support for the State of Israel as it defends itself against unprovoked rocket attacks from the Hamas terrorist organization.”
The resolution details Hamas’ attacks against Israel while omitting any mention of Israel’s far more deadly strikes against Gaza.
In characteristic fashion, there is no mention of the siege around Gaza or the occupation-at-large; instead Israeli bombardment is simply Israel’s “right to defend its citizens” and Palestinians are guilty of “unprovoked” violence against their occupying foe.
On April 7th, Paul formally announced his presidential bid. His campaign website includes an “Israel” section:
I’m proud to support Israel, America’s longtime friend and ally in the Middle East.
Israeli cafés and buses are bombed, towns are victimized by hundreds of rockets, and its citizens are attacked by Palestinian terrorists.
It’s time we took a stand for Israel by standing up to the enemies of Israel, the enemies that murder Israeli citizens.
That’s why I proposed a bill called the “Stand with Israel Act” to cut off the flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Palestinian Authority.
As long as the Palestinian Authority is allied with Hamas not one more tax dollar should flow to them. (Emphasis in original).
The display of avowed support for Israel is a remarkable departure in rhetoric and tone from the 2010 Paul who appeared unconcerned with vocal declarations of pro-Israel bromides and discussed U.S. foreign aid as a fiscal consideration.
Paul’s tenure reflects a remarkable trajectory from isolationism toward isolationism-except-Israel; a “special relationship” if there ever was one. As the 2016 campaign progresses, and if Paul perceives an imperative to convince pro-Israel voters and donors that he’s had a sincere transformation, he may end up being the most vocal pro-Israel candidate in the Republican field.
. . .
Paul’s about-face was panned by Jon Stewart, the former host of the Daily Show: