by Maxine Dovere
The foreign policy positions of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), which have already generated some concern in the Jewish community, might remain a topic of debate among Jews for another several years after poll results indicating that he will be a significant factor in the 2016 presidential race.
Rand Paul—the son of 2012 presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX)—in mid-March won a presidential straw poll of 3,000 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) participants, edging U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), 25 percent to 23 percent. The younger Paul, like his father, has drawn some Jewish criticism due to his opposition of all foreign aid, including military aid to Israel.
Aaron Keyak, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, called Paul’s January appointment to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee “absurd,” adding that the appointment gave him “a bigger microphone and a prominent platform.”
“He represents a foreign policy perspective that, for friends of Israel and those who want to prevent and not contain Iran achieving nuclear weapons capability, is highly troubling,” Keyak told JNS.org.
The U.S. policy of preventing a nuclear Iran “should be an easy position for one of the top Republicans,” but Paul “simply gives the wrong answer,” Keyak said.
“He may be the only United States Senator to not have rejected containment as a policy,” he said.
Paul, whose office did not return requests for comment, says he opposes defense aid to Israel to foster the Jewish state’s independence from American influence. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who traveled with Paul to Israel in January, told JNS.org there is “some change in his positions—although there are some of which with we may not agree.”
“[Paul] had a very good meeting with the Prime Minister (Benjamin Netanyahu),” Hoenlein said. “On numerous occasions, he expressed support for Israel.” Hoenlein believes Paul has “elected a more nuanced position on aid regarding Israel as opposed to others he would like to cut off.” Paul, however, did specifically speak in Israel about “phasing out” aid to the Jewish state, Hoenlein noted.
Regarding Paul’s opposition to Israel aid, Hoenlein said, “Obviously we don’t agree regarding the importance of foreign aid, although allocating it wisely and effectively is something we have always advocated [at the Conference of Presidents].”
Barry Slotnick—the nationally known New York defense attorney whose high-profile clients have included subway shooter Bernhard Goetz and mobster John Gotti—told JNS.org that it is important to understand that Paul’s position on foreign aid puts him “in the great minority.”
“Congress has to react by passing bills and putting together budgets that ignore his position,” Slotnick said. “Maybe someday he will rethink the issue.”
Slotnick, who once sought the Republican nomination for New York State Attorney General, called Paul “very intelligent” and “a force to be reckoned with,” but reiterated that his position on foreign aid is “a minor minority in Congress.”
“Do I think he counts? Ultimately, I do not,” Slotnick said.
Asked why he thought Republicans decided to place Paul on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Slotnick responded, “Without question, Paul has been put on the Foreign Relations Committee so that he will not shine… and he will not shine.”
NJDC’s Keyak, regarding the theory that mainstream Republicans may have placed Paul on the Foreign Relations Committee to put his marginal views on display, told JNS.org, “Putting Senator Paul on the Foreign Relations Committee to show his extremist positions is like putting a piece of challah on your [Passover] seder plate to show your household is kosher.”
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) chairs the Foreign Relations Committee. Keyak said, “Those of us who care about Israel’s safety and security—as well as America’s—should be thankful to have a [Foreign Relations Committee] chairman like Senator Menendez. We should all hope that Senator Paul never gains such seniority. However, by placing him to be on the [Foreign Relations Committee], Republicans are giving Paul that chance sometime down the road.”
When Paul was running for Senate in 2010, Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Executive Director Matthew Brooks said Paul is “outside the comfort level of a lot of people in the Jewish community, and in many ways outside of where the Republican Party is on many critical issues.”
“We don’t write off anybody,” Brooks told The Jewish Week of New York at the time. “As it stands now, there are just too many questions about Paul. Is he more like [Republican Kentucky Senator] Mitch McConnell, who has been terrific on Israel—or is he more like Ron Paul?”
The RJC did not invite Ron Paul to its candidates’ forum for the 2012 presidential election because he was “so far outside of the mainstream of the Republican party and this organization,” Brooks told Washington Jewish Week in 2011, and the group could face a similar decision with Rand Paul if he remains a factor in the 2016 race.
The Conference of Presidents’ Hoenlein said his group hopes that as Paul becomes more involved in foreign policy, he will “understand that foreign aid is an important part of our foreign policy initiative and affects our security.”
“I think he was well received in Israel,” Hoenlein told JNS.org. “Time will tell.”