November 15, 2007
The few, the proud, the Jews for Ron Paul
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 begun to pick 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 Guy Fawkes Day, the anniversary of the failed plot of a British mercenary 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.
And last month, The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) pointedly did not invite him to participate in its candidates' forum. His reported support from extremist groups hasn't helped win him favor among Jews.
Still, Paul 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.
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 Jews 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.
While traveling from Washington to New Hampshire to campaign earlier this month, 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.
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.
For Jews for Ron Paul's 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."
HaKohen 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.
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."