|Is Rand Paul a born again Zionist?
| January 18th, 2013
Last week Rand Paul went to Israel, and it looks like he came back with more than just a lousy t-shirt. The goal was to put some distance between his antiwar libertarianism and the accusation that he’s anti-Israel – and he may have had some success. During his tour of the Holy Land he met with Benjamin Netanyahu, Simon Peres and Naftali Bennett – a Right-wing leader associated with the settlement movement. On the settlements, Paul opined that Obama had no right to tell Israel where to build. On bombing Gaza, he said, “I don’t think you need to call me on the phone and get permission.” David Lane, the evangelical conservative who organised the trip called it a “home run.” When he did get home, Paul called reporters to let them know that he’s also coming out in favour of a new missile defence programme. The Business Insider concludes that he’s turned in to a “pro-Israel defence hawk.” Some antiwar libertarians are even worried that he's become a "Christian Zionist" by association.
The Christian Zionist tag is a little extreme as it refers to a very specific Protestant doctrine on the relationship between the Jewish people and Israel. But on Paul being a "pro-Israel defence hawk", there's certainly a debate to be had. On the “not” side, it should be noted that the missile defence programme is, as its name suggests, defensive rather than offensive and so can be classified “dovish”. And Paul’s support for Israel is conditioned by his opposition to foreign aid. Paul doesn’t want to assist Israel so much as leave it alone, which means that his idea of an alliance is rhetorical rather than material. “We’re with you until you need us” etc.
But there’s no denying that Rand is rebranding himself with gusto, distancing himself from his father’s association with the anti-Israeli Right. All of his pronouncements were framed in terms of what's good for Jerusalem: no military aid to Egypt because of Morsi’s anti-Israel rhetoric and no intervention in Syria because the opposition might contain elements of al-Qaeda. It feels weird to read a piece in the neoconservative Commentary Magazine that is even mildly sympathetic to Paul, but Jonathan Tobin’s hope that the Senator will “become a bridge between the pro-Israel community and libertarians” suggests that one day paleocons might lie down with neocons. Philip Klein calls him a “Zionist non-interventionist” and Jennifer Rubin seems to have become Rand Paul’s mouthpiece – excitedly reporting every vaguely rational thing that he has to say. Incidentally, Paul also met with the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, but strangely few outlets have reported this.
I blogged some time ago that Paul was planning this sort of rebranding and I was somewhat cynical about its effectiveness. But Paul hasn’t had a bad week and it doesn’t seem like he’s done any great harm to his cause. On the contrary, only two potential Republican presidential candidates have set every step right since the election and Paul is one of them. While Marco Rubio has loudly and cunningly opposed the fiscal cliff fudge and Obama’s gun control moves, Paul has pleased his core voters on guns and butter while simultaneously making new friends among neoconservatives and evangelicals. The ambition is obviously to set himself up as Ron Paul Mark II – someone whose commitment to certain libertarian issues gives him a big base of support in the primaries … but whose support isn’t limited to that base because of accusations of extremism.
Nonetheless, there’s reason to remain cautious. The pundits might applaud Paul’s pro-Israel rhetoric right now, but will the enthusiasm last in the heat of a presidential primary? Why should neoconservative voters choose Paul over a candidate who presumably does want to give unconditional aid to Israel – like one Marco Rubio? And will the fine balance between Zionism and non-interventionism hold up under the scrutiny of negative ads and less gushing inquiry? Given that Paul is obviously raring to run for the White House, we shall find out soon.