Rand Paul to Israel

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a skeptic of assistance to Israel who also is considering a 2016 presidential run, will travel to Israel.

Paul will be accompanied by Christian and Jewish leaders, a report Friday on the Christian Broadcasting Network website, and will also visit Jordan.

He will meet with leaders in both countries, as well as Palestinian leaders.

The trip is organized by David Lane, a “prominent evangelical activist,” according to CBN, and will include Republicans from Iowa, the critical first caucus state in the primaries.

Paul has backed eliminating foreign aid, including to Israel, but unlike his father, rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who has run for the presidency in the past, he has refrained from using Israel-critical rhetoric, instead framing his opposition to aid as bolstering his policy that Israel should act with a hand free of outside influence.

Paul has attracted conservative grassroots attention because of his budget-slashing rhetoric, but his opposition to Israel assistance has been as an impediment to winning over the party base.

Libertarianism rings deep and true

The strong presence of Ron Paul, the Republican congressman from Texas, in the GOP campaign — and his respectable third-place finish in Iowa — is bringing attention to the often-ignored libertarian strain in American politics. It is an outlook that challenges the dogmas of both left and right, and taps into an essential part of the national psyche.

Paul, who ran for president on the Libertarian ticket in 1988, espouses views that often put him at odds with fellow Republicans as well as Democrats. While he strongly opposes the welfare state and government intervention in the economy, he’s an equally vocal critic of government infringements on individual rights in the name of national security or traditional morality. He has assailed the War on Terror and the War on Drugs. While not endorsing same-sex marriage, he has argued that all voluntary associations should be legally protected and that, ideally, the state should get out of the marriage business and leave it to religious congregations.

The fortunes of Paul’s candidacy are complicated by his deeply troubling personal baggage of bigoted newsletters to which he lent his name two decades ago. Even without that, it’s unlikely that he could win the Republican nomination — let alone the White House. Yet the level of his support — he raised $13 million in the last quarter of 2011 and placed first in several polls — points to the enduring appeal of pro-liberty ideas. It is one of many such signs.

The Tea Party movement, which has changed America’s political landscape in the last three years, coalesced around opposition to big government. Despite its linkage to political conservatism, it has focused on small government and constitutional freedoms, not traditionally conservative social issues.

Meanwhile, sales of “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel in which entrepreneurs in a quasi-socialist future rebel against a parasitic state — the closest there is to a libertarian classic — have skyrocketed.

Libertarian sympathies have deep roots in America’s individualist culture. In a recent poll in the Pew Global Attitudes Project, Americans tended to agree — by an almost 2-to-1 ratio — that freedom to pursue one’s goals without state interference was more important than having the state guarantee that no one is in need.

Does that mean we have a libertarian majority? Not quite. People who believe freedom is more important than a safety net may still favor a far more extensive safety net than true libertarians consider appropriate.

Even Tea Party supporters, polls show, are more likely to support higher taxes on the rich than cuts to Social Security and Medicare; they’re also more likely to be conservative than libertarian on social issues and civil liberties, often opposing equal rights for same-sex couples and supporting state powers of surveillance over terror suspects. Americans in general are deeply conflicted on issues of liberty versus active government — whether it comes to economic intervention, social programs or national security. Various polls estimate that people with broadly libertarian views (socially liberal and fiscally conservative) make up 15 percent to 25 percent of the public.

In its pure form, libertarianism — like other purist ideologies — has an element of utopianism that ignores the messy complexities of real life. Such problems as race discrimination, environmental protection, health care access or decent living standards for the elderly and the disabled may have no free-market solutions, requiring collective action and investment. A radical reduction of the United States’ foreign commitments, advocated by Paul and many other libertarians, may be impossible in today’s globalized world.

Nonetheless, the libertarian challenge to the authoritarian tendencies of both the left and the right is an important addition to our political discourse. Libertarians are the only group that consistently defends individual choice — a voice we neglect at our peril.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at The Boston Globe. She is the author of “Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood.”

The few, the proud, the Jews for Ron Paul

Jim Perry, a 22-year-old Libertarian, made a name for himself in college when, shortly after moving to New Hampshire to live free or die, he strapped a gun to his side and marched into a local Borders book store and proceeded to rip up a copy of his Massachusetts income tax return.

That sort of fighting spirit is a job requirement in his new post: executive director of the group Jews for Ron Paul.

Paul’s candidacy was dismissed early on due to his support from ” target = “_blank”>The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) pointedly did not invite him to participate in its candidates’ forum. His reported support from extremist groups hasn’t helped win him favor among Jews.

Still, Paul commands a loyal, albeit small, Jewish following. This Jewish support has followed the same pattern as Paul’s backing from other groups — coming from out-of-the way places on the Internet and taking mainstream media and political organizations by surprise.

In addition to Perry’s” target = “_blank”>Zionists for Ron Paul — an outfit launched by Yehuda HaKohen, an American immigrant to Israel, and some of his friends back in the United States.

Some of Paul’s Jewish supporters believe that it would be best for Israel if the United States kept out of Jerusalem’s affairs. There are also those who believe that American aid to Israel is dangerous because it feeds the perception that Jews wield too much influence over U.S. foreign policy.

“Many of us believe the current relationship between the United States and Israel is a very unhealthy relationship, like that of a man and concubine, or a slave and master,” HaKohen said.

While traveling from Washington to New Hampshire to campaign earlier this month, Paul provided a statement to JTA explaining his position on Israel.

“I support free trade and friendship with all nations, meaning that my administration would treat Israel as a friend and trading partner. Americans would be encouraged to travel to and trade with Israel,” Paul said.

“Our foreign military aid to Israel is actually more like corporate welfare to the U.S. military industrial complex, as Israel is forced to purchase only U.S. products with the assistance. We send almost twice as much aid to other countries in the Middle East, which only insures increased militarization and the drive toward war.”

In fact, combined U.S. aid to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and other friendly Arab nations is roughly commensurate with the $2.4 billion military aid package Israel currently gets.

“We have adopted a foreign policy that has left Israel surrounded by militaristic nations while undermining Israel’s sovereignty by demanding that its foreign and defense policies be essentially pre-approved in Washington,” he added.

Paul is an obstetrician from the small town of Lake Jackson, Texas, who served in Congress in the 1970s and 1980s as a Libertarian, then worked as a doctor before returning to Congress in 1997 as a Republican. He’s fiercely pro-life and opposed to gun control, believes American monetary policy must be reconnected to the gold standard and advocates an isolationist foreign policy.

Paul’s campaign manager, Lew Moore, deflected questions about Paul’s support from neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups

“Ron Paul has beliefs that resonate with people. He empowers an individual’s right to free association. A lot of people like that,” Moore said. “He does not believe in foreign aid going to any nation, but that does not have anything to do with individual groups.”

Moore said he has visited the Web site of Jews For Ron Paul, but hasn’t worked with the group and doesn’t know anything about the size of its membership. The Paul campaign, he added, was disappointed but not surprised that Paul hadn’t been invited to speak at the recent Republican Jewish Coalition forum. The campaign manager also said that he knew of no Jewish groups that had asked Paul to speak.

The RJC’s spokeswoman said that Paul’s isolationist stance contradicts her group’s belief in strengthening U.S. ties with Israel. Paul’s consistent record of voting against aid to Israel was a factor in the group’s decision not to invite the candidate, Suzanne Kurtz said.

For Jews for Ron Paul’s Perry, an Orthodox Jew, there is a connection between his own religious beliefs about personal responsibility and the Libertarian philosophy underpinning Paul’s candidacy.

“It’s the idea that people are meant to be equal and free in a just society. Those are the same things that draw me to be an observant Orthodox Jew,” said Perry, who commands an Internet forum whose advisers include political and law professors spanning the country.

“I believe Judaism puts strong emphasis on individual meaning, personal responsibility,” he said, adding that God “calls us to take responsibility for our own actions.”

HaKohen acknowledged that Paul’s followers include groups that might make Jews uncomfortable, but he sees the campaign as an effort to broadly redefine the American political landscape.

Despite his enthusiasm, HaKohen is not getting his hopes up about the GOP candidate’s chances.

“I can see how people might dismiss him,” HaKohen said. “He’s not gonna win.”

The Measure of a Jew

One of the signal contributions of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) over the many years has been its stream of publications reporting on and analyzing our community. Its annual American Jewish Yearbook has long been a staple in Jewish libraries; as David Harris wrote in his foreword to Volume 100, which appeared in the year 2000, “In the pages of the Yearbook’s 100 volumes one can trace the full trajectory of the Jewish experience over the last tumultuous century.” (From 1899 to 1908, the Yearbook was published by the Jewish Publication Society; from its 10th volume on, the American Jewish Committee took on the central responsibility.)

Now we have a new and fascinating volume, titled “Jewish Distinctiveness in America, A Statistical Portrait,” written by Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Surveys conducted by the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago. Herewith, to conform to the limitations of space, an appetizer:

Some years ago, in a free-ranging discussion of Jewish social science research with Steven M. Cohen, the eminent sociologist of American Jewry, and Milton Himmelfarb, the senior resident intellectual and ever-engaging provocateur of the AJC itself, Himmelfarb proposed that Cohen and I were wrong in defining America’s Jews as overwhelmingly liberal.

“Look at the data,” he said. “We look liberal only on issues of personal freedom: abortion, homosexuality, free speech. But when it comes to welfare issues, we are not terribly different from other Americans. We are libertines, not liberals.”

Spoken as a true conservative, which Himmelfarb — brother of Gertrude Himmelfarb, brother-in-law of Irving Kristol, and no slouch in his own right — doubtlessly was. It was he, after all, who coined the memorable — yet often misquoted — phrase, “American Jews earn like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans.”

But the truth of the matter is that American Jewish liberalism is a very complicated thing. Himmelfarb wasn’t right in dismissing it, but neither was I in proclaiming it. (Cohen can more than adequately speak for himself.) Smith’s new volume sheds some light on the matter.

At first pass, we seem not libertine (“one who acts without moral restraint; a dissolute person”) so much as libertarian (“one who believes in freedom of action and thought”), a term that had little currency back when Himmelfarb used the other, more sneering word. On all the personal freedom issues, we are an astonishingly different breed from other Americans: Abortion for no reason other than that the woman wants no more children? Forty-two percent of Americans approve; 82 percent of Jews. Suicide if a person has an incurable disease? Fifty-nine percent of Americans agree; 84 percent of Jews. Is premarital sex always wrong? Twenty-six percent of Americans agree; 4 percent of Jews. Is homosexual sex always wrong? Fifty-nine percent of Americans approve; 18 percent of Jews. And so on.

We’re distinctive also by virtue of our overwhelming agnosticism (65 percent of Americans “know” that God exists, compared to 25 percent of Jews) as also by a range of other judgments in the arena of belief. (Thirty-nine percent of Americans approve the Supreme Court’s ruling against school prayer, compared to 84 percent of Jews; one-third of Americans believe the Bible is the exact word of God, compared to 11 percent of Jews.) And then, of course, we’re hugely different in our voting in presidential elections, 25 percent or higher more Democratic than the national average.

But when it comes to government spending, we’re quite close to the national averages on most items, and sometimes (e.g., whether government is spending too little in assistance for the poor) actually lag behind the national average. We’re very close to the national average on whether government should provide special help for blacks, on whether black-white differences are due principally to discrimination, and on affirmative action (just 15 percent of Jews as well as the rest of the nation think blacks should get preferences in hiring).

Yet we come back to attitudes usually associated with liberalism, and distinctive when compared to most others, on whether there ought to be law against black-white intermarriage, on whether blacks should push for rights. Personal freedom, again.

Others, perhaps, will be intrigued that our per-capita income is nearly twice the national average and our mean household income some 70 percent higher, and considerably higher than “liberal Protestants,” a category that includes Episcopalians; that 61 percent of us have at least a four-year college degree compared to 23 percent of the general population, and compared to 33 percent of liberal Protestants. I am as intrigued by the fact that while 40 percent of American households have a gun, only 13 percent of Jews do. Still, when it comes to capital punishment, the national average of approval is 70 percent, and ours not far behind at 64 percent.

In short, it’s complicated. “Libertarian” doesn’t fit, nor is “liberal” sufficiently exact.

But there’s another point that wants stating here: What real difference does it make whether we are distinctive by virtue of demography, politics or general social attitudes? Idle curiosity may be satisfied by marshalling such data, but there is a difference between interesting things and important things.

The important thing is that we remain devoted to Jewish purposes. Yes, some of that devotion can be measured in terms of political and social values, but a more, much more telling measure is how we act. What about our charitable giving? What about our volunteering in agencies and organizations that feed the hungry or that lobby for a more generous food stamp program? What have we done to halt the genocide in Darfur? How have we advanced and internalized Jewish culture? Smith is silent, but it is a proper answer to such questions that would speak to the kinds of distinctiveness that really matter.

Leonard Fein is the author of “Against the Dying of the Light: A Parent’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope” (Jewish Lights).


The New Jewish Politic

Combative and fiesty, Larry Sternberg relishes the impact of his Libertarian views. When running in a congressional primary for Rep. Robert Badham’s vacated District 47 seat, Sternberg advocated decriminalizing illegal drugs. Despite a lack of campaign resources, he stood out in a crowded field ultimately won by Christopher Cox. “It was fun; it was a crazy fling,” said the semi-retired Tustin accountant.

Among historically liberal American Jews, Sternberg’s conservative views — about abortion, welfare, property rights and regulation — defy conventional wisdom. Sternberg, 75, is convinced Jewish values begat conservative politics, a conclusion he forged during the Reagan presidency at a time of his own renewed interest in Judaism.

He calls on Jews to re-examine their politics in his new book, “Why Jews Should Not Be Liberals” (Ivy House, $20). “The author makes the impassioned and bracing argument that conservatism is the political philosophy most consonant with the value of the Torah,” Michael Potemra wrote in July’s National Review.

Larry Sternberg will speak on Nov. 15 at Temple Isaiah, 2401 Irvine Ave., Newport Beach, (949) 548-6900.