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The Tea Party and Israel

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Marc Tracy at Tablet has a Tea Party and foreign policy roundup.

Wondering what, exactly, is the movement’s foreign policy is legitimate territory: The insurgency is new, and has primarily focused on spending.

Tracy links to this TNR piece by Barry Gewen, who concludes by suggesting that what he sees as signs of hostility to Israel could divide the movement, and the GOP.

Gewen’s evidence is paper-thin: He quotes Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), whose Tea Party affiliation is limited to being the father of Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-Ky.).The evidence I’ve seen is of not much love lost between the Tea Party and the elder Paul.

The younger Paul is, indeed, a Tea Party star and, as we know from this New York Times piece, wants to cut foreign aid — but that’s about all we know. Would he cut it to Israel? By how much? Five percent across the board? Fifty percent?

Then Gewen says this:

One of the odder twists in this intramural debate—and possibly a sign of things to come—was an idea recently floated by Congressman Eric Cantor to remove aid to Israel from the foreign operations budget. It could be seen as a preemptive step to preserve aid to Israel at a time when his party, under the increasing influence of the Tea Party movement, is less sympathetic to foreign aid and defense spending, and less automatically supportive of Israel. The plan went nowhere as influential groups like AIPAC roundly opposed it, and Cantor quickly backtracked. But as the only Jewish Republican congressman, he may have been more sensitive to the drift of the Republican Party than other Jewish leaders.

Cantor, in fact, made clear in his interview with me that he came up with the idea precisely to accommodate Tea Party types who were ager to back Israel, but not the whole foreign policy package. AIPAC and others have their reasons for thinking this is a bad idea (I outline them in the story), but I have yet  to hear — from anyone but Democrats — that one of the reasons is that Tea Partiers are anti-Israel.

Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post does a good job demolishing the nascent Tea Party-Israel anxieties:

If you look at some of the Tea Party favorites, you’ll find stirring defenses of Israel. Marco Rubio (whose speech on Israel was one of the strongest by an candidate in recent memory) and Scott Brown both distinguished themselves on this front. This was also true in the 2010 primaries. In California, Carly Fiorina gained the support of Tea Partyers in a race against Tom Campbell in which Campbell’s shaky record on Israel and association with CAIR became an issue. Likewise, in Indiana, Dan Coats, who voiced his strong support for Israel and criticism of Obama’s response to the threat posed by Iran, crushed conservative John Hostettler, whose anti-Israel rhetoric has been roundly criticized. Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, tells me, "As the polling shows, Tea Partyers are among the most pro-Israel voters in America, and the Tea Party vote helped ensure that the incoming Congress will be even more pro-Israel than the previous one. As for Ron Paul — on foreign policy, he is to the Tea Party what J Street is to the pro-Israel community: a pretender who speaks for a few disaffected cranks. The Tea Party is great for the U.S.-Israel relationship." So where’s the evidence for Gewen’s piece?

Things could change. Tea Partiers are walking into Congress pro-Israel, to be sure. Legislating is a complex, shifting business, and it could change opinions. But so far, Rubin has it right: The movement barely has a foreign policy, but what it does have appears to be solidly pro-Israel.

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