Put this in your box of things you don’t hear everyday: A Republican senator, a tea partier no less, is calling for the United States to loosen its connections with Israel. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told ABC News this week that if it were up to him, the US would stop sending foreign aid to what most Republicans consider to be the nation’s most important ally anywhere.
“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,” Paul told ABC’s Jonathan Karl. “Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don’t think so.”
Paul, best known as the man who promised to bring the tea party to Washington, didn’t say he feels any differently toward Israel than his Republican (and most of his Democratic) colleagues. He just feels that as long as the nation is in the deep debt hole its in, it’s time to turn of the cash spigot to the country that 2012 GOP contenders are flocking to in advance of primary season.
“I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel,” Paul told Karl, “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.”
In his $500 billion-slashing federal budget proposal, Paul suggested trimming the amount of money sent to Israel, along with cuts to foreign aid overall. Democrats tore into the plan, scoring easy political points by vowing to stand by Israel — a politically safe bet in nearly any quarter.
But it’s especially strange that Paul would openly criticize the amount of money the U.S. sends to Israel. Other tea party leaders like Sarah Palin have made unequivocal support for Israel pretty much their only foreign policy plank. Rep. Michele Bachmann, for example, led the House Tea Party caucus in public support for an Israeli preemptive military attack on Iran.
As a constituency, Republicans are extremely supportive of Israel, with fully 85% of Republicans surveyed by Gallup in February 2010 stating they’re on the side of Israel (versus the side of the Palestinians) when it comes to the Middle East peace process.
After winning the Kentucky Senate race last year, Paul hinted at opposition to Israeli aid once he got to DC. In late November, he told the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee that there might be disagreements between him and the powerful lobbying group when it came to Israeli aid.
Now Paul is making good on that promise. Watch Paul talk budget cutting and Israel with Karl while riding the Senate subway system: