LOS ANGELES, December 21, 2015 — When the Republican Jewish Coalition held its 2015 Presidential Candidates Forum on December 3, one candidate played the role of Banquo’s ghost.
Thirteen of the 14 GOP presidential candidates showed up to speak at this critical forum. Only one candidate did not: Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, son of former Texas Congressman and perennial presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Those in the Jewish community who think Dr. Paul deliberately spurned the group are wrong. Paul supporters who think the RJC deliberately sidelined him would also be wrong. There was no villain. Paul was scheduled to speak to the group in the afternoon, but had to cancel his appearance due to a last-minute vote on the Senate floor. Other senators were able to address the RJC event because they had morning speaking slots. They had other events in the afternoon and evening that were also altered because of the votes they had to cast.
Of all the GOP presidential candidates, Paul is the most difficult one to analyze. It is better to talk about the candidates using their own words, yet not covering Paul at all would deny the broader electorate the right to learn about him that was afforded to each of the other lucky 13 GOP candidates.
Rand Paul is not his father. At least one other GOP candidate wants to be judged on his own merits rather than on his last name. Those who love and loathe Ron Paul will agree, sadly or thankfully, that Rand Paul is not his dad.
There are many issues that can be used to evaluate a candidate. The Republican Jewish Coalition deals with issues vital to the overall Republican community, but also with clear importance to the Jewish community. Israel is a major issue to the RJC, as are Iran and radical Islam.
While Paul has never directly addressed the RJC in this type of forum, he has spoken this year to openly skeptical Jewish groups.
In January , Paul received praise from the Executive Director of the Orthodox Union. While the OU is officially non-partisan, Orthodox Jews overwhelmingly vote Republican.
In April, Paul was in Brooklyn to meet with approximately 30 Jewish community leaders at the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools Headquarters.
The RJC has many members who strongly embrace the Neoconservative foreign policy approach. As a Libertarian and a paleocon, Paul’s views are just not well received in RJC circles. However, Paul takes great pains to distinguish his non-interventionism from isolationism. He insists that he is not an isolationist.
While politically conservative Jewish radio host Mark Levin has called Ron Paul a “Jew-hater,” there is no evidence of any kind that Rand Paul is an anti-Semite.
Paul has called in the past for cutting off aid to Israel, but he has also called for cutting off foreign aid to the Arab nations; he has spoken of cutting off foreign aid altogether. The wisdom of this approach is debatable, but it is not based on any personal animus toward Israel or Jews.
In one of the GOP presidential debates, Paul said that America should “butt out” if Israel decides to direct military action against Iran. Israel should be free to do whatever it needs to do to defend itself from a nuclear Iran or any other threat.
This is a remarkably consistent position. While Paul does not seem to be willing to use American power to help Israel, he is willing to get out of the way and not make things harder for Israel. That is a significant difference from the meddling approach of the Obama administration.
Although Paul was an opponent of the Iran deal, he has said he will not automatically tear it up. If Iran complies with the deal, he will let it stand. Iran has already violated the deal since he made those comments, which is one reason Jewish voters are leery of him. He says we should still be nervous about the deal. For many in the Jewish community, especially Republican Jews, that is not enough. They want this deal obliterated.
Paul differs from the RJC community on the issue of sanctions against Iran. While not every RJC member believes that force is the only solution to the Iran problem, tough sanctions are considered the bare minimum. Paul favored weakening the sanctions. He keeps saying that we should talk to Iran the way we had dialogue with the Russians.
On this issue Paul is just wrong. The Soviets did not want to die. Iran is led by mullahs who believe that Armageddon will bring about the return of the 12th Imam.
While Paul did not address the RJC faithful, he has spoken privately with plenty of RJC leaders wanting to hear from him personally.
Paul is an ophthalmologist by trade. He has traveled to Africa to perform corrective eye surgery on poor African children. Now he is metaphorically trying to get influential Republican Jews to open their eyes and see him in a different light. He has won over some Jewish Republicans, while others remain skeptical at best, or totally unconvinced.
Whether or not we agree with Rand Paul’s approach to foreign policy, we should judge him on his record. Perhaps he will speak publicly at another RJC event before the first votes are cast. That could only help matters for him and those trying to evaluate him.