U.S. Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., will travel to Israel next month to meet with leaders in the Middle East on all sides of the ongoing conflict.
The trip will be privately funded and marks Paul’s first visit to the region, where he will be joined by evangelical and Republican leaders on a tour of cultural and historical sites.
The delegation has requested meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah.
Jewish Community of Louisville spokesman Matt Goldberg says the trip will give Paul a chance to understand the unique challenges Israel faces and possibly change his views.
“We’re hopeful that after Sen. Paul sees Israel and what kind of small country it is, and how it’s surrounded by its enemies,” says Goldberg. “And we’re hopeful that Sen. Paul will come to see that and revisit his position on foreign aid to Israel.”
Paul has been a critic of U.S. foreign aid and has called for cuts to funding Israel’s military as part of his larger message for fiscal responsibility. That has put Paul at odds with pro-Israel forces within the GOP base, such as Christians United for Israel leader David Brog, who said Kentucky’s junior Senator is “oblivious” to that country’s security issues.
But as The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin outlines, Paul—unlike his father, Texas Congressman Ron Paul—is trying to craft a new message on Israel while remaining true to his libertarian beliefs.
From Right Turn:
On a personal level, he is more self-aware and engaging than is the elder Paul, a wide-eyed libertarian. On a policy basis, Rand Paul is quite clearly trying to expand the Republican Party by reaching out to Hispanics and younger voters. And these days he is carrying a very different message on Israel, a topic on which his father routinely voiced views and voted in ways that were far outside the mainstream of either party.
“Israel shouldn’t be dictated to by the U.S. They are a sovereign country,” Paul said — whether the issue is the peace process or Gaza. No one should be telling Israel how to respond, he added, “unless you have missiles coming down on your head. They are sovereign.”
Goldberg tells WFPL that there are mixed views on Paul’s politics within the local Jewish community, but that the trip could change that for some.
“I think Senator Paul’s position vis-à-vis Israel and foreign aid to Israel will only improve in our eyes once he has visited and once he has spoken to the leadership of Israel and your average Israeli citizen,” he says.
Observers say that Paul’s trip is another sign that he is running run for president in 2016.