Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul is under fire Tuesday for denying he ever sought to end foreign aid for Israel despite proposing the idea three years ago.
The GOP lawmaker made the denial Monday during his three-day tour of Iowa, telling a Yahoo News reporter he hadn’t “really proposed that in the past” and the media was trying to “mischaracterize” his position.
In February 2011, Paul was fresh off his election via a Tea Party wave. The senator proposed a budget with cuts to all U.S. foreign assistance, including about $3 billion provided to Israel annually.
At the time Paul specifically defended ending aid to Israel as an issue of U.S. fiscal responsibility.
“I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel,” Paul said in 2011. “I want to be known as a friend of Israel, but not with money you don’t have.”
That position put Paul at odds with much of the GOP base and pro-Israeli activists in the Jewish community.
Two years ago, Jewish leaders in Kentucky said they hoped a trip to Israel would change the libertarian-leaning senator’s views. One of the same community activists now tells WFPL he is pleased with Paul’s current pro-Israeli position, but won’t deny he was against funding the country in the past.
“Oftentimes politician’s minds are changed,” said Jewish Community of Louisville spokesman Matt Goldberg. “If Senator Paul opposed aid to Israel in the past, we’re very happy that at least since his trip to Israel or maybe even before he is supportive of aid to Israel.”
Goldberg declined to comment specifically about Paul denying his past opposition to Israeli funding, but added there is still some distrust as a result.
“I would say there’s some residual hesitation regarding Senator Paul’s positions on Israel. But I would say in general the community has been satisfied with his record,” said Goldberg. “Some of the fears that were out there whether they were unfounded or had a basis in fact some of those fears have been allayed.”
Democratic critics, however, zeroed in on Paul’s denial as another example of Kentucky’s junior senator re-writing history to run for president.
In a joint statement, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rabbi Jack Moline of the National Jewish Democratic Council ripped Paul.
“Rand Paul can’t pretend that he never proposed ending the United States’ financial support for Israel. In 2011, Paul introduced a budget that would have eliminated all foreign aid for Israel; he even bragged about his position in multiple interviews and called such aid “welfare” to a wealthy nation.
He has also expressed a belief that a nuclear Iran would not pose a real threat to Israel or the United States. Sen. Paul can claim that he wants to be a friend of Israel, but the consequences of his actions would threaten the security of Israel and its ability to defend itself.”
This continues a pattern by Paul when he is confronted about controversies, such plagiarism, Senate staffers, and past objections to a key provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Rather than discuss how his views have evolved, observers note, Paul lashes out at reporters and observers.
Paul spokesman Dan Bayens said the senator supported increased funding for Israel’s air defense just last week in the ongoing battle with Hamas militants, and is a supporter of Israel. The Senate unanimously consented to the air defense measure.
“Senator Paul never singled out cuts for Israel and there was never legislation specifically cutting aid to Israel,” he said. “He did have a budget that zeroed out all aid, but later budgets have allowed for foreign aid.“
Bayens also pointed out the Israeli prime minister told a joint session of Congress the country would be better off when it does not have to depend on the U.S. for protection.
Clarification: Because of a source error, an earlier version of this story misrepresented Paul’s action in the Senate on the Israel air defense spending increase.