More Questions About the Pauls and Israel
Jonathan S. Tobin
Last week, Senator Rand Paul went to some lengths to try and convince readers of COMMENTARY that the qualms that I expressed about his record on Israel were unfounded. Suffice it to say that I think despite his expressions of friendship to the Jewish state, most Republicans, as well as most Americans, are going to have a hard time reconciling his opposition to military aid to Israel as well as support for defense cuts and a reduced role for America around the world with the idea that he supports the alliance. But if the senator is serious about convincing his party that he can be relied upon to have Israel’s back, he has a much bigger problem than anything I have to say about the issue: his father, Rep. Ron Paul.
Though Senator Paul has tried to carve out a different, more establishment-friendly niche for himself in Washington than his gadfly father, his support for the latter’s presidential runs and clear admiration for the man’s principles and positions are a matter of record. And in case anyone forgot about the erstwhile presidential challenger’s stands on Israel, he gave us a reminder today with a blog post on his official congressional website. Titled, “How to End the Tragedy in Gaza,” Rep. Paul does not blame Hamas for starting the latest fighting. Instead, he blames Israel and, more to the point, American backing for Israel, for enabling the conflict. Though his son has not said anything like that in recent years, this is the sort of false and destructive rhetoric that is catnip to many of the extremist libertarians who form the family fan base and who will, no doubt, be the foot soldiers in Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential run. While it may be unfair to expect any man to distance himself from his father, unless the senator makes a clear effort to disavow his father’s positions on the Middle East, his attempts to portray himself as a friend to Israel will flop.
Ron Paul’s position on Israel has been consistent. Though he, too, occasionally tries to paint his stand as one that is friendly to the Jewish state, he does more than just oppose military aid. He believes the U.S. is at fault for being Israel’s steadfast ally. The congressman’s belief in the moral equivalence of the two sides in the conflict is clear:
US foreign policy being so one-sided actually results in more loss of life and of security on both sides. Surely Israelis do not enjoy the threat of missiles from Gaza nor do the Palestinians enjoy their Israel-imposed inhuman conditions in Gaza. But as long as Israel can count on its destructive policies being underwritten by the US taxpayer it can continue to engage in reckless behavior. And as long as the Palestinians feel the one-sided US presence lined up against them they will continue to resort to more and more deadly and desperate measures.
One needn’t waste time pointing out that the idea of “inhuman conditions in Gaza” is a myth fostered by Israel’s enemies or that there is nothing “reckless” about a nation reacting to the firing of hundreds of missiles on its citizens and sovereign territory with a counter-attack. But the most telling point about this piece is that the libertarian leader’s ideas about moral equivalence extend beyond his hostility to Israel. They also apply to American measures of self-defense against terrorists:
Last week, as the fighting raged, President Obama raced to express US support for the Israeli side, in a statement that perfectly exemplifies the tragic-comedy of US foreign policy. The US supported the Israeli side because, he said, “No country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” Considering that this president rains down missiles on Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and numerous other countries on a daily basis, the statement was so hypocritical that it didn’t pass the laugh test. But it wasn’t funny.
This goes to the heart not only of Ron Paul’s hostility to the exercise of American power but also to that of his son. Plenty of so-called foreign policy “realists” share their prejudice against Israel and willingness to buy into Arab propaganda about the Middle East conflict. But both the Pauls have a problem with American efforts to combat al-Qaeda, or to restrain rogue Islamist regimes like the one in Iran. That puts them clearly outside the mainstream of the Republican Party and renders Rand Paul’s presidential hopes and growing influence a threat to any hopes of the GOP recapturing the White House in the future.
Rand Paul’s comments don’t usually come across as parodies of far-left rants the way his father’s usually do. But he has made it clear that he shares the elder politician’s core beliefs about American foreign policy. So long as the senator fails to clearly oppose his father’s ideas about the Middle East and the role of the U.S. in the world, friends of Israel won’t believe what he says about Israel. Nor should they.