Calling Out Rand Paul: Will You Really Defend Israel?

Only once, a year ago, did the undeclared presidential hopeful state that 'any attack on Israel will be treated as an attack on the U.S.' Does he still stand by his words?

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
Eric H. Yoffie
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Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
Eric H. Yoffie

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would take Rand Paul over John Kerry in a walk. So argues my colleague Seth Lipsky in Haaretz last week (“Unlike Kerry, Rand Paul won't flinch on Israel.”)

But actually, he wouldn’t.

True, Netanyahu might welcome the change for a day or two. Rand Paul, as president or secretary of state, would be an easy fellow to deal with. Israel’s government would be free from the endless demands of her American ally. There would be no more lectures about the unsustainable status quo with the Palestinians; no more “road maps” or “framework agreements”; no scolding about the places that Israel might choose for settlement building; no biting comments about Israeli insistence that Jerusalem remain her undivided capital; and no condemnation of Israeli military action should it be taken against Iranian nuclear facilities.

To a certain degree, this would be wonderfully liberating for Israel’s leader. Mr. Netanyahu’s worst coalition headaches would disappear, and he could stop worrying about his defiant right-wing cabinet ministers, who keep erupting with insulting observations about Mr Kerry’s character and intentions.

But then, very quickly, reality would set in.

Netanyahu would see that American interference in Israeli affairs would stop, but so would American engagement.

A Rand Paul administration might not criticize Israeli military operations, including against Iran, but it would not support those actions either. There would be no American murmuring about the likelihood of boycotts against Israel, but neither would there be an American initiative to bring boycotts to an end. There would be no U.S. aid for Israel’s Arab neighbors, but also none for Israel. (As Paul as noted, however, Israel’s aid would be eliminated not immediately but over time.)

An America led by Rand Paul, in other words, would not be a bother to Israel, but it would not be much of a help either. And it is hard to see how the Jewish state, which is a very small and vulnerable country in a very bad neighborhood, would benefit from this arrangement.

In many ways, I like Mr. Paul. While he calls himself a “constitutional conservative,” he is at heart a libertarian, and I have a libertarian streak myself. I agree with him on NSA intercepts and the need to change our country’s drug laws and reduce the number of incarcerated drug offenders.

I find him to be reasonably honest as politicians go (although, I admit, this is not a terribly high standard). And I admire that he does not shy away from speaking about foreign policy, even though this is the most controversial part of his platform.

But despite the restrained language that he uses when dealing with foreign affairs (see his most recent speech here), there is simply no disguising his radical message: He opposes the mainstream thinking of Republicans and Democrats alike on America’s role abroad, rejects American leadership on the world stage, and shows the greatest reluctance to either back America’s friends or limit the influence of America’s enemies.

While all sane people want to avoid war whenever possible, he is positively allergic to the use of force and to putting American boots on the ground, anywhere and for any reason, other than a direct attack on the United States.

Mr. Paul does not even like the idea of arming rebels who promote American interests and values, even though this might be a good way to avoid the armed American engagement that he so abhors. He is also dismissive of preemptive wars.

While acknowledging that there may be cases, other than an attack on the U.S. homeland, where American military intervention could be required, he tries to avoid offering specific examples. The only one that I could find that he approved of was the American attacks on Osama bin Laden terrorist camps in Afghanistan following 9/11.

Actually, there is one other example. Following a visit to Israel in January 2013, intended to demonstrate to American evangelicals his concern for the Jewish state, Paul said in an interview with Breitbart News that American policy should be that “any attack on Israel will be treated as an attack on the United States.”

This means, of course, that he was calling for an American military response to an attack on Israel by Iran or anyone else. Paul’s statement caused quite a stir among many of his supporters, who saw it as contrary to past declarations and to the whole thrust of his foreign policy.

Interestingly enough, although he has given a number of foreign policy speeches in the last year, this statement on Israel has never been repeated. One wonders: Does he still believe it, and is he prepared to reaffirm it now, in clear and unequivocal terms?

If so, Mr. Netanyahu - as well as future prime ministers of Israel of both the right and left - might be reassured that Paul’s leadership will not threaten Israel’s existence or well-being. Under any circumstances, this would be a good question to ask him.

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie served as president of the Union for Reform Judaism from 1996 to 2012. He is now a writer, lecturer, and teacher, and lives with his family in Westfield, New Jersey.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul speaks during a news conference in Washington, DC. June 13, 2013Credit: AFP

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