WASHINGTON D.C. — Early in his political career, Sen. Rand Paul gained publicity for his opposition to all American foreign aid, including aid delivered to U.S. allies such as Israel. During various interviews, Paul argued that delivering foreign aid to Israel harmed both the U.S. and Israel’s long-term economic and political interests. Additionally, Paul penned a bill that included a measure to defund foreign aid to Israel in 2011.
This August, Paul’s previous call to cut U.S. foreign aid to Israel has come back to haunt him.
In an interview conducted by Yahoo! News during early August, Paul denied that he ever proposed cutting aid to Israel. “I haven’t really proposed [to cut Israeli aid]in the past,” said Paul. “We’ve never had a legislative proposal to do that. You can mistake my position, but then I’ll answer the question. That has not been a position — a legislative position — we have introduced to phase out or get rid of Israel’s aid.” Paul, who once supported foreign aid cuts to Israel, recently signed a bill to send $225 million in support of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and expressed support for an aid hike to Israel and the cessation of foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Politifact, a website that tracks the truthfulness of politicians and pundit’s statements, rated Paul’s claim that he never supported Israel foreign aid cuts a “pants-on-fire” lie, the sites’ worst level of deception.
Paul first expressed his support of Israel foreign aid cuts in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Jan. 26, 2011.
Blitzer: “You want to end all foreign aid as well, is that right?”
Paul: “Yes, and in fact, the other day Reuters did a poll, 71 percent of American people agree with me that when we’re short of money, where we can’t do the things we need to do in our country, we certainly shouldn’t be shipping the money overseas.…”
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.”
In a second interview with ABC News’ Jonathan Karl on February 3, 2011, Paul voiced similar concerns about delivering foreign aid to Israel. Paul said:
“I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel, but not with money you don’t have. We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries, even if they are our friends. … I think they’re an important ally, but I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world. Should we be giving free money or welfare to a rich nation? I don’t think so.”
On top of his statements in interviews, Paul decried foreign aid to Israel in a 65-page budget proposal released by his office in March 2011. The budget proposal suggested the broad guideline to “eliminate all international assistance.” In its section on Israel, the budget proposal stated the following:
“While this budget proposal does eliminate foreign aid to Israel, it is not meant to hurt, negate, or single out one of America’s most important allies. This proposal eliminates all foreign aid to all countries. Israel’s ability to conduct foreign policy, regain economic dominance, and support itself without the heavy hand of U.S. interests and policies, will only strengthen the Israeli community.”
Paul’s critics in Congress and in the media have been quick to point out and criticized Paul’s foreign policy position change. Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said “Rand Paul has absolutely supported ending US aid to Israel, and he needs to stop trying to rewrite history.”
Both television hosts Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart devoted extended portions of their shows to pointing out Paul’s flip flop.
Many believe that Paul’s position change on the issue of Israeli aid occurred due to Paul’s desire to run for the Presidency in 2016. New York Times Magazine recently ran a cover story declaring that Paul’s libertarian ideology could sway young voters to support his presidential run, even from possible Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton. Paul also won the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll, an annual poll predicting conservative support for potential GOP presidential candidates.
It is unclear if Paul’s support of foreign aid to Israel will make him more popular with the American public as a possible presidential candidate or if it will extend to American foreign aid more generally. Conventionally, Americans support Israel with 43 percent of the population saying they sympathize with Israel in its invasion of Gaza. However, 76 percent of young voters want the U.S. to focus internally instead of on global affairs and 61 percent of Americans believe the U.S. gives too much in foreign aid. Paul could lose his edge with voters if he loses his reputation as a detractor of foreign aid.
– Nathan Slauer