Is Rand Paul trying to change his Israel spots? Perhaps. In recent weeks, despite the fact that Paul has long positioned himself as a skeptic of the US-Israel alliance and opposes neoconservative-style interventionism abroad, he has been making at least a feint in the direction of Israel, various hardliners, and—as we learned this week from a funny but revealing piece in The New York Times—Rupert Murdoch, too.
According to the Times, Paul spent Derby Day in Kentucky last Saturday squiring the Wall Street Journal/Fox News magnate around Churchill Downs. As the Times noted right up front:
The libertarian brand of politics championed by Mr. Paul and his deep reservations about American intervention overseas have prompted more than a bit of wariness in The Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages, on Fox News and in other influential media outlets owned by Mr. Murdoch.
Of course, for Paul, who has recently been courting the GOP establishment’s money men, a pleasant day with Murdoch isn’t likely to solve all of Paul’s problems with the pro-military, hardline faction of the GOP and its Israel lobby allies. (You’ll recall that when Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and other centrist contenders, who also style themselves as believers in the traditional GOP version of a “strong” foreign policy, attended the “Sheldon Primary” dog-and-pony show in Las Vegas organized by billionaire Sheldon Adelson and the Republican Jewish Coalition, Rand Paul was not on the guest list.) But Paul is making gesture after gesture in their direction. Whether or not such gestures will alienate the fervent anti-intervention Paul contingent in the GOP isn’t clear yet, but he seems intent on testing it out.
As M.J. Rosenberg points out, weirdly enough Paul recently introduced a bill in the Senate that would have cut off American aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the recent unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas, a piece of legislation that Paul called the “Stand with Israel Act of 2014.” It was, we suppose, an effort to show his solidarity with Israel and his disdain for Hamas, and so on—but if so, it didn’t quite work, since Paul’s initiative was denounced by the likes of Elliott Abrams and opposed even by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. (It didn’t pass. You can read about Paul’s complaint that the Senate rejected his bill, and view a video of his whining remarks, at Baltimore Jewish Life’s site.)
Paul’s apparent attempt to flip and then flop on Israel has drawn commentary from David Corn at Mother Jones, and over at Mondoweiss, Phil Weiss has taken note of Paul’s effort to “make nice to Israel.” But it’s not really new. Back in 2013, when Paul visited Israel, he returned bursting with zeal for the Zionist state, according to National Review. Here’s the lead paragraph of that piece:
Rand Paul is describing an episode from his trip to Israel in January : “I went to a Shabbat,” he tells me, “it was the first time I’ve ever done that, and I had a wonderful time. I went to the yeshiva, and all the young men were singing and dancing, they had me dancing around the table. I hope I was singing something that was fine—it was all in Hebrew, so I had no idea what I was singing.”
If there’s any doubt that Rand Paul isn’t his father’s son on the issue of Israel, that trip and his posture afterwards should have ended it. He returned to the U.S. to tell Breitbart News, “Absolutely we stand with Israel. What I think we should do is announce to the world—and I think it is pretty well known—that any attack on Israel will be treated as an attack on the United States.”
A surprising piece on May 6 in The Jerusalem Post, by hardliner Caroline Glick, a columnist, suggests that Paul might be finding some takers for his pro-Israel shift, even though suspicions remain. Says Glick:
Paul’s bill was good for America. Maintaining financial support for the Palestinian Authority in the aftermath of the PLO’s unity-with-terrorists deal constitutes a breach of US anti-terror law.
And she adds:
By extending his hand to Israel, Paul gave Israel an opening to build relationships with political forces with which it has not traditionally had close ties. Because most of Israel’s supporters in Washington support an interventionist US foreign policy, isolationists like Paul have generally either stood on the sidelines of the debate, or in light of their desire to beat a quick retreat from the region, they have been willing, even happy to support the Arabs against Israel and blame Israel’s supporters for getting the US involved in the Middle East.
The hard truth is that while American isolationism is bad for the US, it isn’t necessarily bad for Israel. To date, under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, there has been a direct correlation between the level of US involvement in Israel’s affairs and US hostility towards Israel.
In the end, Paul is almost certain to be an also-ran in the GOP field in 2016. His followers, Rand’s Army, are passionate. But his odd views will alienate many hardliners and hawks, and his strange dalliances with racists and white supremacists will convince many Republican moderates that Paul would be chewed up in a battle with Hillary Clinton. Still, he’s providing color in what, so far, is a colorless struggle among a wide range of contenders.