The year was 2008 and for many Americans an economic meltdown, the War in Iraq, and the waning failing days of the Bush Administration had spawned a feeling that change was needed. But for me, at the time a struggling engineering student at the Technion’s pre-academic program, the idea that voting would change that wasn’t even in my mind. I’d moved to Israel four years before, served in the army, and didn’t vote in my first eligible American election. Leaving the USA I’d pretty much come to the conclusion that the American political system was dominated by two hogs wrestling over corn cob.
But the truth was that by 2008-09 I had also become fatigued and culturally alienated despite being from an extended family largely made up of Israelis. I was living in the Hadar neighbourhood of Haifa, a warren of dilapidated early 20th century Bauhaus homes populated by a population of the city’s poorest, heroin addicts and alcoholics, elderly Russian immigrants, and Filipino guest workers. That was fine, but I was also failing out of my program. And my brother had also told me that our mom was diagnosed with cancer which would eventually cause me to move back to the US in 2009.
During the actual campaign that was happening in the backdrop of my unraveling personal goals, millions if not billions of people around the world began to embrace the message of “hope and change” proposed by a youngish, eloquent senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. I had heard Obama’s convention speech in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention and like many I was thoroughly impressed. But in terms of his politics and personal beliefs I didn’t find much that appealed to me, and that probably was because as a US citizen resident of a foreign country his platform positions didn’t seem at the time to have much bearing on me. So yes, during the 2008 debates, Senator Obama definitely seemed more confident and motivated than his opponents, including his fellow senators like his future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and his future vice president Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE).
But I never had the desire to vote for Obama, because a different candidate captivated my imagination who could not have been more different than him. With a sing song old timey voice, a stooped posture, and the mannerisms of a high school chemistry teacher nearing retirement, he talked of the blow-back of decades of US intervention throughout the world, the loss of civil liberties under the Patriot Act, and the inevitability that America would spend itself into oblivion due to the military industrial complex and federal entitlements and benefits.
Rep. Ron Paul was an anomaly on the election stage, even more so because as a Republican he was completely at odds with the sitting president and standard bearer of his party, George W. Bush. On the Democratic side he had counterparts that were similar in their outlook on foreign policy like Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK).
During the South Carolina debate, Dr. Paul, an OBGYN and former Air National Guard flight surgeon, confronted opponents like Rudy Giuliani by claiming that the “Republican Party had lost its way” and that Osama Bin Laden was glad that the USA was intervening in Iraq. The crowd of mostly staunch neo-conservative Republicans was stunned into silence and only cheered for Giuliani’s demands that Paul apologize for claiming that the USA invited the 9/11 attacks through decades of intervention in the Middle East.
Now let me state before continuing that I think Dr. Paul had grossly overstretched his point, even though he clarified during his remarks that he was not justifying the September 11 attacks. What captivated me however was that he was not playing friendly music to a contented audience but speaking his honest opinion. As I read more and more about the Paul agenda on the economy I was stunned to learn that after years in the political wilderness at least I had a guide stone. Did I ever become a full-blown libertarian? No, but the Paul campaigns of 2008 and 2012 awakened me to the internal contradictions and corruption of the Republican Party, just as Al Gore’s 2000 campaign showed that the Democrats will blame everyone but themselves for their own corruption and incompetence. After being obstructed during the nomination process in 2012, Paul refused to endorse the eventual nominee Mitt Romney. In 2010 Dr. Paul’s son Rand, an ophthalmologist, was elected as the junior senator for Kentucky. While the son takes much inspiration on both personal liberties and fiscal policy from his father, Rand Paul’s foreign policy is significantly milder.
Nevertheless, when this week Sen. Paul was accused directly by the Washington Free Beacon of blocking US aid to Israel, I was left seething at the flood of accusations that he was an anti-Semite by many that I know, especially when placed on the background of past accusations against his father. As the article itself admits:
Paul, a proponent of ending U.S. aid across the globe, has had multiple confrontations with the pro-Israel community over the years as result of his views. Paul has sought to hold up U.S. aid to Israel multiple times over the years, creating friction between him and top U.S. pro-Israel lobbying shops.
The article goes on to cite the Christians United For Israel (CUFI) and America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as the two organizations that are pressuring Sen. Paul to remove his objection to the U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act, S.2497. Let us not also forget that it was the Free Beacon that was the original funding source of the alleged Trump-Russia “dossier” that has been discredited as a fantastic hoax. I have had several friends that are staunch Republicans call me out in the past due to my professed support for the senator not just on domestic policy, but indeed on the majority of his foreign policy including this specific one.
So why I do I continue to support this policy as someone that did indeed complete mandatory IDF service as the son of Israeli citizens?
While serving in the West Bank on several checkpoints during the tail end of the Second Intifada, I was like any other police officer or soldier there under the authority of Ministry of Defence directives concerning screening procedures. The MoD would at times tell us when to screen people with higher scrutiny as well as when to let through more people. And this may surprise some of you, but there were instances when due to high traffic or longer wait times the ministry would instruct us to allow people through without inspection. These directives, according to the information handed to us down the chain, were among concessions given as a result of the Bush Administration’s Road Map to Peace along with prior established protocols of the US-Israel security cooperation relationship.
“But Bush was a true friend of Israel“, you might be saying right now. Perhaps, but everyone has friends that are wise and friends that are fools. According to Bush’s former Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams, Secretary of State Colin Powell in particular was adamant that Israel would have to render concessions with regard to building settlements and withdrawing from the West Bank. In January 2008 at the end of his presidency George Bush himself called for an end to the Israeli occupation. The Road Map that Bush launched was a tremendous failure for what should now be recognized as very glaring errors:
- It injected into the conflict a bizarre mix of four mediators between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority: The USA, European Union, Russia, and United Nations. Known as “the Quartert”, this group of four bodies with clashing geopolitical agendas have done nothing to further peace in the region.
- The plan depended on the compliance of the famously opaque and duplicitous Yasser Arafat, the obstinate and belligerent Ariel Sharon, and later various other inept leaders on both sides that were not actually looking for a good faith negotiation process.
- It did not account for the Palestinian factions that reject peace talks and are committed to armed struggle such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Popular Front (PFLP). As such, it could not account for the disruption that further carnage from terror attacks and Israeli responses would cause to the so-called plan.
And why is it that Sharon simply didn’t reject the plan and say that he was his own boss? Well the truth is that because of US foreign aid to Israel, its government and military had access to space age tools of war but never had the full authority and will to deploy them. The American foreign aid to Israel and other states in the region has become addictive and like every other state that chooses to stick it’s fingers in the region, the USA only serves to exacerbate a broader proxy war. This is not to understate the threats of states like Iran, but rather to clarify that the continuous dependence on US aid packages has handcuffed Israel with respect to its pursuit of decisive military objectives in its more direct conflicts in Gaza and on the Lebanese border. In 2006 for example the USA’s role in brokering a ceasefire once Israel had finally succeeded in turning the tide against Hizbullah in Lebanon helped provide the Shia Islamic terror army with a tremendous symbolic victory.
The above examples during the Bush presidency are enumerated in order to illustrate that even under an administration perceived publicly as friendly to Israel, the military aid packages are not a goodie bag to be enjoyed at a whim but a bargaining chip that keeps defense contractors rolling in easy American taxpayer cash while extracting compromises from Israel on future final status deals with the Palestinians. This is not good faith diplomacy for any side.
Then there is the more common rationale for why American military aid should be eliminated which is that the United States should not be paying other countries in taxpayer money so that their military forces can turn around and buy billions of dollars of military hardware from massive conglomerates. I am not saying these companies should not sell weapons Israel or any other US ally, but rather that there is no reason that Washington needs to provide the cash. It is no more anti-Semitic to question why corporate welfare needs to be injected indirectly into corporate coffers than it is to question the need for a new stadium for the LA Rams makes one a Seahawks fan. The American people have the right to question our expenditures on every item in the federal budget, let alone those allocated to non-US destinations.
In 2011, Senator Paul had the following exchange with Wolf Blitzer of CNN:
BLITZER: What about the $2 billion or $3 billion that goes every year to Israel? Do you want to eliminate that as well?
PAUL: Well, I think what you have to do is you have to look. When you send foreign aid, you actually send quite a bit to Israel’s enemies. Islamic nations around Israel get quite a bit of foreign aid, too.
BLITZER: Egypt gets almost the same amount?
PAUL: Almost the same amount, so really you have to ask yourself, are we funding an arms race on both sides? I have a lot of sympathy and respect for Israel as a democratic nation, as a, you know, a fountain of peace and a fountain of democracy within the Middle East.
But at the same time, I don’t [believe in] funding both sides of the arms race, particularly when we have to borrow the money from China to send it to someone else. We just can’t do it anymore. The debt is all consuming and it threatens our well being as a country.
BLITZER: All right, so just to be precise, end all foreign aid including the foreign aid to Israel as well. Is that right?
In response to those statements the Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin called Paul a “neo-isolationist” and called for him to be condemned. Rubin herself is famous more recently for reversing course on whether climate change is a real problem once Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords. Like many other so-called conservatives now beloved by the corporate media, Rubin’s apologia for the failed Bush era economic and foreign policy has been forgiven now that she has genuflected and condemned the orange demon.
So those critics of Sen. Paul may be able to parse out an argument that the military aid is necessary, but I dare them to point to the remark in this exchange or any other that directly singles out Israel and demonizes it. Ironically, this may be the only public official that is willing to actually treat the Jewish state as a nation like any other. Moreover, if you look at the video below, Senator Paul is conspicuously hostile to the Palestinian Authority for someone that is purportedly an enemy of Israel:As a senator in 2015, Senator Paul was so “anti-Semitic” that he sponsored and proposed the “Stand With Israel Act“, the original bill that called for ending the US subsidies to the PA.
But for all of the GOP partisans, AIPAC supporters, and neoconservatives his willingness to buck the trend on the failed model of military aid for foreign friendship constitutes “anti-Semitism” and a threat to Israel’s security. I will tell you what the real threat is to the security of not just Israel, but any nation in that region and beyond: Adventurous war hawking and nation building as our last three presidents have engaged in without shame. Thanks to those policies the nations of Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya are fragmented bloodbaths, and that does not further the future and security of any of their neighbours including Israel by the way.
Like his father, Rand Paul gives his medical diagnosis without concern for enabling the patient’s false notion of his own health. I would hope we would have as citizens more elected officials that are willing to talk about changing the status quo in order to avert more disaster and carnage.
I am not a political Zionist, but I do support the people and cause of Israel where most of my family lives. So I will close with some of the lines from its anthem “Hatikva”:
Our hope is not yet lost,
It is two thousand years old,
To be a free people in our land
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.
You can argue many of the above points, but not this one: There cannot be a free people when it is tethered to someone else through a quid pro quo foreign aid policy.