January 31, 2008
Candidate profile: Ron Paul
Paul's call to end foreign aid draws small Jewish following
Jim Perry, a 22-year-old Libertarian, made a name for himself in college when, shortly after moving to New Hampshire to live free or die, he strapped a gun to his side and marched into a local Borders book store and proceeded to rip up a copy of his Massachusetts income tax return.
That sort of fighting spirit is a job requirement in his new post: executive director of the group "Jews for Ron Paul."
Paul's candidacy was dismissed early on due to his support from white supremacist, Libertarian and other fringe groups, but the campaign has picked up steam on college campuses and on the Internet, in part due to his staunch anti-war stance.
A longtime Texas congressman, Paul raised $4.2 million on Nov. 5 from 37,000 individual donors who agreed to give as part of a "money bomb" on the anniversary of the failed plot of British mercenary Guy Fawkes to kill King James I in 1605. In September, he announced that he'd brought in $5.2 million in the previous three months, putting him ahead of John McCain in the Republican money race.
Even as Paul makes headway in some circles, organized Jewish support for his Republican presidential bid is nearly nonexistent, thanks to the candidate's longstanding stance against providing foreign aid, including U.S. assistance to Israel.
The Republican Jewish Coalition pointedly did not invite him to participated in its candidates' forum last month, even though his fund-raising ability and popularity on the Internet make him a dark horse with potential to upend the primary race. His reported support from extremist groups hasn't helped win him favor among Jews.
Still, Paul still commands a loyal, albeit small, Jewish following. This Jewish support has followed the same pattern as Paul's backing from other groups -- coming from out-of-the way places on the Internet and taking mainstream media and political organizations by surprise.
In addition to Perry's "Jews for Ron Paul," there is "Zionists For Ron Paul," an outfit launched by Yehuda HaKohen, an American immigrant to Israel, and some of his friends back in the United States.
Some of Paul's Jewish supporters believe that it would be best for Israel if the United States kept out of Jerusalem's affairs. There are also those who believe that American aid to Israel is dangerous because it feeds the perception that Jewish wield too much influence over U.S. foreign policy.
"Many of us believe the current relationship between the United States and Israel is a very unhealthy relationship, like that of a man and concubine, or a slave and master," HaKohen said.
"We think that Israel should be an ally to the United States but not a vassal to the United States," he added. "I don't think it's important for me as an Israeli for America to defend me. I don't think it's morally appropriate for American soldiers to fight Iran for me. American aid does more harm than good. These are insults to our national sovereignty."
While traveling from Washington to New Hampshire to campaign in November, Paul provided a statement to JTA explaining his position on Israel.
"I support free trade and friendship with all nations, meaning that my administration would treat Israel as a friend and trading partner. Americans would be encouraged to travel to and trade with Israel," Paul said.
"Our foreign military aid to Israel is actually more like corporate welfare to the U.S. military industrial complex, as Israel is forced to purchase only U.S. products with the assistance. We send almost twice as much aid to other countries in the Middle East, which only insures increased militarization and the drive toward war. "
In fact, combined U.S. aid to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and other friendly Arab nations is roughly commensurate with the $2.4 billion military aid package Israel currently gets.
"We have adopted a foreign policy that has left Israel surrounded by militaristic nations while undermining Israel's sovereignty by demanding that its foreign and defense policies be essentially pre-approved in Washington," he added. "That is a bad deal for Israel, as sovereign nations must determine on their own what is a most appropriate national defense. On foreign policy as well, the U.S. steps in to prevent Israel from engaging in dialogue with nations of which the U.S. administration disapproves."
Paul is an obstetrician from the small town of Lake Jackson, Texas, who served in Congress in the 1970s and 1980s as a Libertarian, then worked as a doctor before returning to Congress in 1997 as a Republican. He's fiercely pro-life and opposed to gun control, believes American monetary policy must be reconnected to the gold standard and advocates an isolationist foreign policy.
Paul's campaign manager, Lew Moore, deflected questions about Paul's support from neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups
"Ron Paul has beliefs that resonate with people. He empowers an individual's right to free association. A lot of people like that," Moore said. "He does not believe in foreign aid going to any nation, but that does not have anything to do with individual groups."
Moore said he has visited the Web site of Jews For Ron Paul, but hasn't worked with the group and doesn't know anything about the size of its membership. The Paul campaign, he added, was disappointed but not surprised that Paul hadn't been invited to speak at the recent Republican Jewish Coalition forum. The campaign manager also said that he knew of no Jewish groups that had asked Paul to speak.
The RJC's spokeswoman said that Paul's isolationist stance contradicts her group's belief in strengthening U.S. ties with Israel. Paul's consistent record of voting against aid to Israel was a factor in the group's decision not to invite the candidate, Suzanne Kurtz. said.
Kurtz also said the format of the forum, which gave each candidate 45 minutes to address the audience, meant there was not time for all of the candidates to appear. Only Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Sam Brownback and Fred Thompson spoke. Brownback has since dropped out of the race. "It's been clear throughout Ron Paul's tenure in Congress that his positions regarding Israel and the Middle East are significantly outside the mainstream of the Republican Party," Kurtz said. "We hold Paul's positions as both wrong for Israel and wrong for America. Because of these positions, Paul does not enjoy any support from the top leadership of the RJC."
Hadar Susskind, the Washington director for the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, said that his organization has had little interaction with Paul during his tenure in Congress, in part due to the fact that Paul has received very few committee appointments.
"Ron Paul is an interesting political figure. For good or for bad he takes public positions that are unpopular within his party," said Susskind, whose organization does not endorse candidates. "But he's not a member who we've had a tremendous amount of interaction with."
Perry, of Jews for Ron Paul, acknowledged that there's been a stigma attached to Paul's candidacy due to the right-wing extremist groups that support him.
"I'm supporting Ron Paul because he supports the Constitution," he said. "When the freedom message brings people together like this does, people start changing their views."
For Perry, an Orthodox Jew, there is a connection between his own religious beliefs about personal responsibility and the Libertarian philosophy underpinning Paul's candidacy.
"It's the idea that people are meant to be equal and free in a just society. Those are the same things that draw me to be an observant Orthodox Jew," said Perry, who commands an Internet forum whose advisers include political and law professors spanning the country. "I believe Judaism puts strong emphasis on individual meaning, personal responsibility," he said, adding that God "calls us to take responsibility for our own actions."
Perry said that his Internet forum is advised by political and law professors spanning the country. In addition to the 12-member board, the group has 48 members on its Facebook site and 80 members signed into its Yahoo account.
Perry often tells the story of one white supremacist that he's become friendly with at Ron Paul meet-ups.
"Here I am a kipah-wearing, fringes-hanging Orthodox Jew and he had a tattoo with the National Alliance. He starts to see me as a human being," Perry said. "I've met him seven times, and I've gotten him to drop the title of white supremacist. He's getting his tattoo covered up. I think that freedom message, when really taken seriously, brings us together. I would be very comfortable inviting him over for Shabbos dinner."
HaKohen, of Zionists for Ron Paul, acknowledged that Paul's followers include groups that might make Jews uncomfortable, but he sees the campaign as an effort to broadly redefine the American political landscape.
"I've never been excited in my life by an American politician. I never heard an American politician speak the language he's speaking. He's avoided nothing and answered honestly," he said. "That's why a lot of young people, liberals, college students, back him. I'm sure a lot of Arabs support him. If you have Zionists, Muslims and white supremacists supporting him, he's someone who really resonates with people."
HaKohen is a member of the Zionist Freedom Alliance, a student movement on 20 college campuses in America dedicated to Israeli nationalism. The group is socially liberal, but takes a hard-right stance on Israeli border issues.
Despite his enthusiasm, HaKohen is not getting his hopes up about the GOP candidate's chances.
"I can see how people might dismiss him," HaKohen said. "He's not gonna win."