Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky and among the most prominent elected officials clearly associated with the Tea Party, yesterday argued for ending U.S. foreign aid to all countries, including Israel. “When you send foreign aid, you actually [send] quite a bit to Israel’s enemies. Islamic nations around Israel get quite a bit of foreign aid, too,” Paul, a renowned deficit and spending hawk (and son of renowned deficit hawk and isolationist Ron), told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “You have to ask yourself, are we funding an arms race on both sides? I have a lot of sympathy and respect for Israel as a democratic nation, as a a fountain of peace and a fountain of democracy within the Middle East.” But, Blitzer confirmed, Paul does believe U.S. aid should cease to Israel.
J Street and the National Jewish Democratic Council of course pounced, but more interesting was the Republican Jewish Coalition’s response: “We share Senator Paul’s commitment to restraining the growth of federal spending, but we reject his misguided proposal to end U.S. assistance to our ally, Israel.” Trouble in paradise! (No but they’re totally right about the proposal.)
We’ve been here before. Right before the 2010 midterms, Rep. Eric Cantor—a Jewish Republican who is the Majority Leader—floated the notion of separating Israeli foreign aid from the rest of aid in order that Congress could more easily squash the other aid. Many pro-Israel groups, including AIPAC, condemned the proposal for encouraging isolationist sentiment, which is bad for Israel, and Cantor quickly backtracked. In both instances, a Republican concerned about a base revved up to worry about federal spending and focused, in a down economy, on their own backyards, attempted to frame a policy that is opposed by pro-Israel experts as being, in a roundabout way, good for Israel.
Paul’s stance could also prove the spark that lights the foreign policy powderkeg in the Republican Party, in which the isolationist, anti-spending Tea Party could end up at odds with the party’s traditionally’s pro-Israel establishment.
Final thought: Much U.S. aid to Israel—specifically, the roughly $3 billion annually in military aid—finds its origins in the 1979 Camp David Accords, which led to Egypt being the first Arab country to recognize Israel; under them, Egypt’s government gets roughly $1.3 billion per year in U.S. military aid. Now that Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak, is more in the public spotight with the recent popular protests against his regime, Americans are likely to become more aware and more condemnatory of that aid; and I wonder if that will rub off on Israeli aid at all?
Sen. Rand Paul: End Foreign Aid—Including Israel Aid [Forward/JTA]
U.S. Democrats and Pro-Israel Lobbies Slam Republican Senator’s Call to Halt Israel Aid [Haaretz]
Earlier: Cantor’s Foreign Aid ‘Trial Balloon’ Is Popped
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.