Why Is Rand Paul Claiming He “Never“ Wanted to Phase Out Aid to Israel?

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 4 2014 4:40 PM

Why Is Rand Paul Claiming He “Never“ Wanted to Phase Out Aid to Israel?

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Painting himself into a corner.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Rand Paul is spending much of this week in Iowa, stopping in all four congressional districts, opening GOP offices, and returning Saturday for a forum put on by the Iowa Family Leader. Iowa, coincidentally, will hold the nation's first 2016 presidential caucus in 18 months. So Paul is being covered as a "presidential front-runner," tailed by reporters who want to ask him questions.

How's it going, Chris Moody?

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on Monday denied that he once supported ending federal aid to Israel—an idea he proposed as recently as 2011.
“I haven’t really proposed that in the past,” Paul told Yahoo News when asked if he still thought the U.S. should phase out aid to Israel, which has been battling Hamas in Gaza for weeks. “We’ve never had a legislative proposal to do that. You can mistake my position, but then I’ll answer the question. That has not been a position—a legislative position—we have introduced to phase out or get rid of Israel’s aid. That’s the answer to that question. Israel has always been a strong ally of ours and I appreciate that. I voted just this week to give money—more money—to the Iron Dome, so don’t mischaracterize my position on Israel."
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Twice—twice!—Paul denies he ever had a "legislative" proposal to cut aid to Israel. As Moody (and everyone else on the trail) explains, Paul actually proposed a cessation of all foreign aid, back in 2011, when he was coming up with ways to erase the budget deficit in one year. As a bunch of people reported at the time, this was a bold and unusual position (even Eric Cantor proposed cutting all aid except aid to Israel—sorry, Pakistan) and it put Paul under a microscope. He told ABC News that Israel was "an important ally, but ... their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world." In an interview with me, he went further:

We had $500 billion of cuts. The cuts to that one particular country were 3/5 of 1 percent of it. And you know what? Netanyahu has come out in favor of less foreign aid and less dependence on America. There are many right-wing Likud politicians who think that it hampers their sovereignty. But the bottom line is, it has nothing to do with Israel or their allies or anything.

In 2013 Paul visited Israel, and I got a chance to ask him if touring the country and seeing the settlements in the West Bank had changed his thinking in any way. He reiterated that the country, in the long run, would be better off with less foreign meddling, even if that meant less aid.

It's really the presumption of whether we should be dictating to other countries—even if they are our friends—whether we should dictate every minute aspect of them building in their country. I think that's wrong. But I think it's also a reason you should want to become more and more independent, and not dependent on aid from the United States. Because then you can develop your sovereignty and be more definitive in the things you want.

But in the same conference call with reporters, Paul seemed bullish on aid for Iron Dome. Circling back to today's Iowa quote—I think Paul is trying to separate foreign aid earmarked for Israel from military aid for Israel. That's asking a lot of reporters, as almost all the aid that goes to Israel is foreign military financing, coordinated by the State Department and the Department of Defense. (The last budget contained $3.1 billion of this, for Israel.) Yet that seems to be Paul's argument. He has introduced a bill that would have zeroed out aid to Israel, but he has never specifically targeted military funds. And if you say otherwise, you "mischaracterize" a position that had endeared no small number of foreign policy realists to Paul.

Update, Aug. 4, 2014: Just a couple of weeks ago, Eli Lake wrote about the sentiment, among some American Israel hawks, that the Jewish state would be better off without American military aid. So it's not like Paul's 2011-2013 stance was indefensible.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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