Rabbi Spars With Candidate Vivek Ramaswamy on Israel Funding

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach said he got Presidential candidate Ramaswamy to “reverse his position while the world’s media looked on.”
December 7, 2023
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy participates in the NewsNation Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Alabama Moody Music Hall on December 6, 2023 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

After the fourth Republican presidential primary at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday, Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy verbally sparred with New York Rabbi Shmuley Boteach about his push to defund Israel from American military aid during the War with Hamas.

“I got him to reverse his position while the world’s media looked on,” Boteach told the Journal.

As of this writing, Ramaswamy’s website touts that his plan for Israel in a seven-word statement: “‘No money,’ but a ‘diplomatic Iron Dome.’”

In the video reviewed by the Journal, Boteach criticized Ramaswamy for previously calling for an end to the United States’ annual $3 billion funding for Israel, which Ramaswamy denied. Boteach argued that Israel needs the funding for essential military equipment, especially as it fights against Hamas. Boteach emphasized the importance of supporting Israel, not just for its own survival, but also for the defense of Western values.

Below is a transcript of the video of Boteach speaking with the 38-year-old biotech entrepreneur.

RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH: You cannot call yourself the pro-Israel candidate and call for Israel to be defunded when its essential Military needs equipment right now. I’m sorry, that’s just wrong.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: I stand for the $3 billion to continue, the annual $3 billion.

RSB: No, you’ve called for the end of the $3 billion. You said you want all of that to end as well?

VR: No, actually, actually—

RSB: So you’ve changed your mind? I’m happy to hear that.

VR: Until Israel tells us they’re ready for it is what I’m saying.

RSB: Okay. So you want Israel to get the $14 billion that the Republicans and the Democrats agree on?

[UNIDENTIFIED] He has to get ready for —

RSB: Well, I’m sorry, but this is the biggest story in the world right now, whether Israel is going to have American funding.

VR: — $3.8 billion for years. Just so you hear for a fact my position: $3.8 [billion] annual, continuous.”

RSB: So okay, then you’ve changed your mind. I’m glad to hear.

VR: Until Israel agrees.

RSB: I’m glad to hear that. I hope you’ll support the $14 billion as well. Well, at least you responded to me. I appreciate that. Thank you. Pro-Israel candidates can’t call for Israel to be defunded. Israel is fighting a war that supports all of the Western civilization because Hamas is a threat to the United States, as is a Muslim brotherhood, as are the Islamists. They want to destroy Western civilization, not our Islamic brothers and sisters who are our brothers and sisters, but the Islamists who are not.

Boteach described an earlier exchange with Ramaswamy (not on video) to the Journal.

“I told him it was an absolute chutzpah that during the debate he called himself ‘the most most pro-Israel candidate on the stage’ amid his desire to cut off Israel financially when it’s fighting for its very survival,” Boteach told the Journal.  He asked me, “Oh, really? If Ben-Gurion were alive what would he want? Would he want Israel to be independent?” And I answered his ignorance by saying, “Ben-Gurion would want an IDF of soldiers, like my sons, fighting with weapons and guns and not with pea-shooters like you want them to, with no money or equipment. No Israeli ever asked American soldiers to defend them, so cut the fraudulent independence crap. Israel simply needs American financial assistance at a time when it is experiencing a Holocaust level-extinction event in a single day and has to fight for its and the West’s survival.”

In addition to being a rabbi, Boteach is an author and a former republican candidate for Congress, having unsuccessfully challenged incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) in the 2012 election.

“[Ramaswamy] should listen to American parents like me — I’m a Republican, I’m an American, I’m a Jew,” Boteach said. “This is the number-one story in the world, and he cannot call for Israel to be defunded.”

Ramaswamy told Politico in October that “The U.S. should be clear with Israel that further U.S. support is contingent on Israel identifying clear objectives for success in Gaza and a coherent plan for what comes after toppling Hamas even if Israel is successful in doing so. As of now, these critical questions remain unanswered,” he said.

He sparred with former UN ambassador Nikki Haley at the first Republican debate of the 2024 cycle in August on the same topic. A week prior, Ramaswamy spoke about cutting Israel funding on the “Stay Free with Russell Brand” podcast.

“I want to get Israel to the place where it is negotiated back into the infrastructure of the rest of the Middle East,” Ramaswamy said on the podcast. “We should not be worried about holding one nation or one region hostage over one particular question relating to Palestine. Go to Abraham Accords 2.0. That’s good for Israel, it’s good for the rest of the Middle East, it’s good for us such that, come 2028, that additional aid won’t be necessary in order to still have the kind of stability that we’d actually have in the Middle East, by having Israel more integrated in with its partners.”

The current US aid package of $38 billion to Israel expires in 2028.

The debate also featured former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Although no date is set for the next Republican debate, the Iowa Caucus is five weeks away and the New Hampshire Primary the following week on January 23.

The Ramaswamy campaign has not responded to the Journal’s requests for clarification on his position on Israel.

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