By David A. Harris, President of the National Jewish Democratic Council
You’ve perhaps heard by now that Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul won this weekend’s presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) gathering in Washington, D.C.You may also have heard that Paul surprised the pundits with his strong victory, especially given the competition. He solidly beat former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and he overwhelmingly defeated former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and many others in the running.
Thousands of attendees at the flagship conservative conference of the year electing Ron Paul as their standard bearer in 2012 of course says many things to many observers. But to me, given my parochial perspective, I hear one message loud and clear: it seems as if conservatives are trying to lose even more votes within the American Jewish community.
To be sure, Paul has said and done myriad things that can and should equally offend everyone - including through his newsletters, which for decades have been riddled with racist and anti-gay writings (James Kirchick of The New Republic provided a particularly helpful expose of this background in 2008). But when it comes to Jews and Israel, Paul seems to have a special, singular focus. To say that Paul has a horrendous record on Israel and other issues of Jewish concern is a wild understatement. During the 2008 campaign, a Haaretz article quoted Paul as saying, “The assumption is that AIPAC is in control of things, and they control the votes, and they get everybody to vote against anything that would diminish the [Iraq] war.” The same article repeated his preference for the cessation of all U.S. aid to Israel, noting that when it comes to the U.S., “Israel doesn’t really ‘need us.’” On his own website, he noted that “Palestinians are confined to a ‘concentration camp’” during the Gaza conflict in January, 2009. In Congress, Paul voted “no” on Iran sanctions legislation; he also voted against recognizing Israel’s 61st anniversary and the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, and he has consistently opposed U.S.-led peace efforts in the region.
Looking beyond my parochial lens, it’s fascinating to see the impact of the Tea Party folks and the influx of younger conservatives at the CPAC gathering - and how it may have upended the anticipated results of a straw poll such as this. But when my thoughts turn back to how the GOP and conservatives are forever hoping to increase their narrow swath of Jewish support, their decision to select a standard-bearer who misses no opportunity to vote against Israel is probably not the best “get out the Jewish vote” strategy.
The fact that the hearts and souls of the conservative movement have a clearly expressed preference for Ron Paul as their 2012 candidate demonstrates yet again the vast and growing chasm between the American Jewish community and the Republican, conservative movement. Anointing someone whose newsletter wondered aloud if the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was perpetrated by Israel just helps to illuminate the depth of that chasm.