Playing Politics (or Not) on Israel
Democratic, Republican Jewish groups react to New Hampshire primary
The results of yesterday’s Republican New Hampshire primary deliver much food for thought. Mitt Romney is on the clearest path yet to the nomination, while the path of runner-up Rep. Ron Paul seems equally clear: he won’t win, but he will stick around. This makes things … interesting for Jewish voters, who for the most part are averse to Paul’s isolationism, softness on Iran, and support for eliminating aid to Israel; to say nothing of his history of publishing racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic newsletters under his own name and his failure to fully reckon with this. The Republican Jewish Coalition, which does not endorse primary candidates, has long opposed Paul adamantly. In a release, the National Jewish Democratic Council argued that yesterday’s results “are yet another indication, as if one was needed, that these candidates are trying to do everything they can to repel Jews from the GOP.” This is for the obvious reasons when it comes to Paul, it said; Romney’s problem, meanwhile, is that he “does not share the same policy positions as most American Jews.”
In interviews today, NJDC head David A. Harris and the RJC’s Matthew Brooks concurred that Romney is in the driver’s seat and that, to quote Harris, “there’s not going to be a President Paul.” But they found much to differ on, including how worrying a figure Paul is for the GOP and whether it is in-bounds to criticize Romney for saying he would support candidate Paul over candidate President Obama.
Harris pointed to worrying trends concerning Paul. “He got three times more votes than in 2008,” he said. “Between that and him beating expectations from just a week ago, and that he did better than in Iowa, it only strengthens his hand going forward and makes him a force to be reckoned with in the GOP nominating process.” He added, “It’s dangerous for anyone who cares about Israel, Iran, or opposing an isolationist foreign policy.” According to Harris, the concern is less Paul in 2012 than a hypothetical (but likely) Republican candidate in 2016 or 2020 who runs on a Paul-like platform.
But Brooks suggested there may not be quite the constituency in the GOP for Paul that Harris suggests. “A lot of the strength [Paul] has been getting is from independents and Democrats who have come into the process, who have participated in the caucuses and primaries,” Brooks argued. “He’s getting a lot of support from young people, people who are in favor of legalization of drugs, the anti-war movement, the Occupy Wall Street-type crowd.” Brooks’ conclusion? “His strength is not a measure of his strength within the Republican Party.” (The Iowa caucuses are open: anyone can participate. The New Hampshire Republican primaries are open only to Republicans and independents who must have registered some time beforehand.)
The other attack Harris launched against Romney (as well as Rick Santorum, who came in second in Iowa) is that, despite his attacks on Paul, he has stated that he would vote for Paul over Obama. “Our main concern is that it’s hypocritical and that it’s time for the head of the party”—the release mentions Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus—“to firmly condemn Paul’s views.” He continued, “It’s doubly not so meaningful when either a Rick Santorum or a Mitt Romney condemns Ron Paul, because they’re opponents, and both went on to say that, despite all the panoply of horribles—which we agree on—they would still vote for him. Which significantly logically undercuts the correct arguments they make.” As a coda, he added: “And I must give credit where credit is due: Newt Gingrich rightly drew a line in the sand, and said [Paul’s] policy is anathema to all who care about Israel.”
To Brooks, however, this accusations of hypocrisy is both irrelevant—“it’s kind of a sideshow, because Ron Paul’s not going to be the nominee”—and itself hypocritical. “I find it interesting,” he said, “that they have no qualms about using Israel as a wedge issue when they’re attacking Republicans, but when anyone wants to attack President Obama, in their construct, they’re not allowed to.” Brooks was referring to the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee’s call for Israel not to be turned into a partisan wedge issue. The NJDC said at the time that it “supports the spirit of the pledge.”
But Harris rejected the notion that his group was playing Israel politics when it came to Romney. “We haven’t done it and we won’t do it,” he asserted. “The other side can spread myths and lies about the president’s stellar Israel record all they want, but we won’t say that about Mitt Romney and we won’t say it about Rick Santorum.” His case against Romney, he said, has entirely to do with his failure to fully, consistently condemn Paul.
And if there is one large thing the two sides agree on, it is that Paul is so far outside the mainstream that criticizing his stance does not constitute playing politics on the issue.
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