By David A. Harris, President and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council
What if you knew that your community would be rocked by an earthquake in two weeks—would you try to do something to warn people to take precautions? What if The New York Times and others were reporting that the earthquake was coming—but the only people who could really do something were only paying lip service?
The earthquake is political, and it will rock the Republican Party on January 3rd when Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) comes in first or places highly in the Iowa caucus. Public Policy Polling now places Paul clearly in the lead. Don’t like that poll’s methodology? The Times’ Iowa forecast places him first too. Catching a trend?
So what’s my beef with Paul winning in Iowa? Well there’s the fact that the newsletters bearing his name have been filled with racism and bigotry for years and years—along with his continuous engagement in almost comedic conspiracy theories and horrific 9/11 “Truthers” (who blame the U.S. for the 9/11 attack). But I’d like to focus on just one disturbing area among many: his wrongheaded views about Israel and the Middle East. Pro-Israel Republicans—the ones who can actually do something about Paul—like to talk about how wrong he is, but they are loathe to actually put their money where their mouths are.
What has Paul done, exactly? Paul willingly appeared on Iranian government television to slam U.S. support for Israel. His newsletter has been obsessed with Israel for years in its ridiculous conspiracy theories (among other conspiracy theories, bigotry and racism). His debate appearances have allowed him to consistently rail against the U.S.-Israel relationship. Whether he’s answering questions nobody quite asked with responses like, “Why do we have this automatic commitment that we’re going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel?” or repeating his call to end foreign aid to Israel, or even trying to empathize with Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, Paul has clearly brought his dangerous views into the national limelight.
As we’ve said for years, his congressional record is miserable, but I think I can stop here; after all, my contention that Paul is toxic for the U.S.-Israel relationship is stipulated broadly by the pro-Israel community, from left to right. He’s not progressive or misunderstood, he’s wrong. The GOP and Jewish Republicans agree; that’s what they themselves said when they didn’t invite him to their presidential soiree recently, citing his “misguided and extreme views.”
So what are Jewish Republicans to do now that he’s on the verge of a major primary victory? So far, they’ve paid lip service aplenty! They’ve tweeted, they’ve issued a release, and they even said he couldn’t come to their party. But there’s still plenty left for them to do.
Beyond the broad bipartisan pro-Israel consensus, each party has its outliers; so here’s a case study of what NJDC did in 2010 that may give my Republican friends some ideas.
In Los Angeles, staunchly pro-Israel Democratic Representative Jane Harman faced a primary challenge this past election cycle by a candidate whom we felt was not pro-Israel because she had repeatedly supported a one-state solution—meaning the end of the State of Israel. Making matters worse, she threw a dual-loyalty charge at Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA)—the dean of the Jewish congressional delegation. In this Democratic race, which received plenty of national attention, we felt that every person who cared about Israel in the district needed to know where the candidates stood. We directly contacted everyone we could in the Los Angeles area—all Democrats—to help educate them with information about who was running, inform them about what was at stake, and ask them to take action by contacting Winograd with their concerns. We engaged in an issue advocacy campaign. We did this all within our own party. And this was just for one congressional primary—one where we honestly did not expect Winograd to perform well.
Paul is anything but pro-Israel and he’s a presidential frontrunner. In two weeks, he’ll either come in first or place highly in Iowa. The time has come for those in the GOP who really care about the U.S.-Israel relationship to stop just paying lip service and start doing a bit of work in their own party. The Republican National Committee and Jewish Republicans need to pivot quickly from rhetoric to an education campaign in Iowa to ensure that Republican voters who care about the U.S.-Israel relationship understand where Paul stands on Israel. In the case of Jewish Republicans, perhaps they could spend just a small fraction of the reported $5 million they’re slated to spend next year to ensure that Iowans know the truth about this essential issue, where Paul stands on the U.S.-Israel relationship—an issue that the RNC and Jewish Republicans alike say is essential to them too.
It’s not too late, but it’s close.