WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Republican Jewish Coalition praised Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for his outreach to Jews, but said he needed to distance himself from an aide who has championed the Confederacy.
“I think it’s incumbent upon him going forward that ultimately that this guy — not just saying that he disagrees with him, but we’re going to see going forward that this guy won’t have a role,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks told JTA.
Paul has been under fire this week ever since the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news site, uncovered a wealth of past writings and remarks by an aide, Jack Hunter, that defended the Confederacy and praised Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
Paul has said he will not fire Hunter, his new media director who co-wrote with Paul a book on the conservative Tea Party movement. Hunter has disavowed his earlier remarks.
Brooks noted that Paul has made emphatically clear that he does not agree with Hunter’s earlier stated views. Brooks also praised Paul for his intensive outreach to the Jewish community, which has included a trip to Israel, meetings with the boards of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Brooks’ RJC, as well as attending a Zionist Organization of America Capitol Hill day.
“It’s important to recognize that he is interested in having a good relationship with the Jewish community,” Brooks said. “He’s trying to demonstrate by actions that he is different from his father.”
On Tuesday, Paul had a call with 80 “Jewish leaders,” including many rabbis, the conservative Daily Caller reported.
“Everybody felt that the senator was honest and didn’t just say what the Jewish community would want to hear, but said what he feels,” Rabbi Nate Segal, a participant, told the Caller. “And that was very important and that was very well received.”
Paul’s father, former congressman Ron Paul, has had a contentious relationship with Jews. During his campaigns for president, Ron Paul issued calls to cut aid to Israel and harshly criticized of the Jewish state. In addition, a newsletter published in his name in the 1980s and 1990s included material offensive to Jews, minorities and gays.
Rand Paul, who reportedly is eyeing a 2016 presidential bid of his own, also has called for an end to assistance to Israel but says his first priority is to cut foreign assistance to other nations, particularly those that he says might one day threaten Israel, like Egypt.
He also has cast his calls to cut assistance to Israel as a means to free Israel from U.S. influence in areas where there are disagreement between the two governments — for instance, on the future of the West Bank.
“We hope that over time his view will continue to evolve,” Brooks said, “that over time he’ll appreciate and understand the tremendous value foreign aid to Israel has both in terms of Israel’s security, America’s security and jobs back home.”