Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul revealed this week that he would support moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a surprising position that contradicts conventional wisdom about Paul’s stance toward the Jewish state. Paul first made this position known Wednesday night, during a private meeting with evangelical leaders interested in helping the Texas Congressman reach out to the conservative Christian community.
According to a transcript of the meeting obtained by Business Insider, the leaders started off the meeting by asking Paul whether he would sign an Executive Order to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a major policy objective for Israeli hardliners and many leaders in the Christian Right.
“The real issue here is not what America wants, but what does Israel want,” Paul told evangelical leaders, according to a transcript of the meeting obtained by Business Insider. “If Israel wants their capital to be Jerusalem, then the United States should honour that.”
“How would we like it if some other nation said ‘We decided to recognise New York City as your capital instead, so we will build our embassy there?'” he added.
Even Paul’s senior campaign aides were surprised by his response.
“We were floored,” senior advisor Doug Wead told Business Insider. “It sounds like pure Ron Paul, but it still caught us off guard…If someone would have asked him that in a national debate, I suppose it would have popped right out, but nobody did!”
Wead added that Paul’s position “makes sense after the fact,” noting that the candidate has frequently emphasised Israel’s sovereignty.
Still, Paul’s stance will likely come as a surprise to GOP leaders, most of whom view Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy ideas — and particularly his stance towards Israel — as his greatest weakness. The septuagenarian Congressman has largely been snubbed by the right-wing Jewish community, and was even excluded from a December presidential candidates’ forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition because of his “misguided and extreme” foreign policy views.
“I appreciate what he said about Israel — as a matter of fact, I was pleasantly surprised,” Brian Jacobs, a Texas pastor who attended Wednesday’s meeting, told Business Insider. “It helped answer a lot of questions that I had.”
Ironically, Paul and Newt Gingrich are now the only presidential candidates who have said that they are in favour of recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the U.S. Embassy there. President Barack Obama has postponed moving the Embassy. Romney “would like to see the U.S. Embassy eventually moved to Jerusalem,” campaign spokesman Andrea Saul said in a statement emailed to Business Insider.
While Paul’s position is unlikely to change the near-certain outcome of the Republican primary, it could help Paul gain support among evangelical leaders, many of whom have been hesitant to support Romney. Jacobs, who has worked as a consultant for televangelist Billy Graham, told Business Insider that several evangelical leaders have started to express interest in talking to Paul in the wake of Rick Santorum’s departure from the race.
Jacobs said he is now working with the Paul campaign to organise conference calls between the candidate and evangelical leaders. Christian television producer Justin Machacek, who also attended Wednesday’s meeting, said he is working on arranging a larger meeting between Paul and other conservative Christian groups.
A relationship with Christian Right powerbrokers could give Ron Paul more leverage within the party, as Romney tries to unite the GOP after this year’s divisive primary fight. It could also help broaden the Paul coalition, setting the stage for a future run by Paul’s son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.
“100% of Christian leaders that I’ve talked to, do you know the one thing they like about Ron Paul? His son Rand Paul,” Jacobs told Business Insider. “Every Christian leader will say, ‘You know I’m not quite sure if Ron Paul can win the nomination’…but in the same breath, they tag it with, “But I sure do like the way his son has followed him.'”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.