WASHINGTON — A leading pro-Israel group is condemning Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul after taking issue with critical comments he made to BuzzFeed about foreign policy mistakes made by "defenders of the promised land and the chosen people."
Paul was discussing a speech he gave last year at the Value Voters Summit in which he said he struggled to reconcile his Christian beliefs with the notion of fighting wars.
"I think some within the Christian community are such great defenders of the promised land and the chosen people that they think war is always the answer, maybe even preemptive war. And I think it's hard to square the idea of a preemptive war and, to me, that overeagerness [to go to] war, with Christianity," Paul told BuzzFeed in a story published Friday morning.
An official at Christians United For Israel strongly criticized Paul for the comments, accusing the senator of "slander."
"One of the last acceptable prejudices in America is a bias against Christians of faith. Thus it hurts us to see a leader we respect — and a Christian one at that — engage in such slanders of Israel's Christian supporters," the CUFI source, who requested anonymity because he said he didn't have permission to speak on the subject, told BuzzFeed. "Let's be clear, Christians United for Israel is the largest pro-Israel organization in America and we abhor war. We have never asked Congress for any action tougher than economic sanctions because we believe that war must always be a last resort. And we support a strong Israel because we know that this is the best deterrent to war in the Middle East."
The source continued, "And while we're debunking ugly myths, let's also be clear that the United States did not go to war in Iraq or Afghanistan for Israel. No one familiar with the debates over these wars can seriously suggest otherwise. If anything, Israel's leaders at the time thought the Iraq war was a mistake which would harm Israeli security by strengthening Iran. Many current observers believe that this is exactly what has come to pass."
Doug Stafford, a senior Paul adviser, said the senator's comments were not intended as a blanket criticism of Israel supporters.
"Sen. Paul has always enjoyed a good relationship with CUFI," Stafford said. "As the quote says, he noted that 'some' in the Christian community have seemed too ready to go to war. Sen. Paul did not say 'all,' or even 'most.' He was not speaking of any group as a whole, which should be clear to anyone who re-reads what he said. Given the statement from CUFI, he clearly was not referring to them, as they note they have not advocated for war. He simply is asking all Christians to join him in reexamining our foreign policy and in working to make war a last resort, a goal we should all share."
Update: After BuzzFeed published Stafford's comment, CUFI executive director David Brog sent this statement:
"I welcome Senator Paul's clarification that he was not speaking about CUFI when he made these remarks. I also welcome the Senator's contributions to the current debate on Syria. The fact is that America has shed too much blood and wasted too much treasure fighting wars that have not furthered our national interests. But I'm still quite concerned about Senator Paul's assertion that these wars were somehow linked to Israel. Israel neither wanted nor requested the Iraq war. As the only ally we have who fights our shared enemies for us, Israel deserves a hand extended in friendship, not a finger pointed in blame."
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.