On the airplane that is taking me from New York to Iowa for a week of my favorite pastime – watching American politics in action – I’m reminded of a similar visit, four years ago almost to the day. I’m taking a look at the Iowa polls and am pondering the possibility that Ron Paul will be the ultimate winner next Tuesday. A couple of days ago I discussed the possible “Ron Paul effect” on Jewish voters, that I think might ease Democrats’ way to winning back swing-voter Jews. And in a column about the Jewish vote written in Hebrew for Maariv daily I even toyed with a possible slogan for the Jewish Democrats with which to achieve the maximum impact from Paul’s victory. In Hebrew it runs: A’nachnu Tomchim Ba’Bitachon – Ha’Republicanim Bocharim B’Ron. Translation: We support security for Israel, while the Republicans vote for Ron. Creative translation: Obama would not let you fall – Republicans would give you Paul.
Four years ago, Paul was a second tier candidate, with no chance of pulling the kind of upset he now has the potential to achieve. But even then, he was interesting enough for me to try for an interview. A representative (then) of an Israeli newspaper, nagging the candidate least “pro-Israel” in the field:
Paul is polite to the Israeli nudnik attempting to trip him up: “I’m not anti-Israel in any way,” he says. Paul has no problem with the idea of America’s maintaining good trade relations with Israel, or with seeing Israeli tourists in the U.S. and vice versa.
The suspicions about him, he assumes, come from the fact that he opposes economic and military aid to Israel. But, he stresses, it’s not just Israel, it’s any country. In fact, Paul explains, Israel only stands to gain from his position. “It’s a good deal,” he says, since when aid to Israel stops so would the aid to all the Arab states currently enjoying American patronage. It is true that Israel receives more than any of the Arab states, but, Paul notes, it receives less than they do put together. “The enemies would also be denied the money,” he says.
“I believe in the sovereignty of Israel,” Paul says. If Israel stops receiving U.S. aid, then it could do whatever it wants. If it wants peace, then it will make peace. In any event, Paul is certain that “It will do quite well.” Israel doesn’t really “need us.”
Not much had changed since 2008. Paul has similar answers to similar questions. Last week, an old “subscription letter” bearing his signature had surfaced, in which it is said that the “Israeli lobby plays Congress like a cheap harmonica”. Not quite nice, but also not much worse than Tom Friedman’s description of the lobby’s impact on Congress. In fact, Friedman’s statement was worse. Much more problematic was the Paul newsletter in which it was hinted that Israel might be the culprit of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Paul gives the same answer to all these accusations and revelations: I didn’t see the newsletters, didn’t approve them, not my fault. If you care to believe him, that’s for you to decide, but I’d urge you to do it only after reading Jackie Kucinich’s USA Today report. Paul will be speaking in Iowa in the next couple of days, and I intend to go see him perform: Thursday in Perry or in Atlantic, or Friday in Council Bluffs. This should be an interesting ending for the event-packed 2011.