Manchester, New Hampshire -- Yesterday in Meredith, NH, Ron Paul shook a hand that shook Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hand.
The hand belonged to Yisroel Dovid Weiss, an activist rabbi who leads a branch of Neturei Karta, a small and very odd sect of Haredi Jews (often called by the somewhat imprecise label "ultra-Orthodox"). While many Haredim are theologically opposed to Zionism -- to oversimplify, they believe the Jews get the Holy Land when the Messiah arrives, not before -- only Neturei Karta actively side with Israel's enemies. (Their marginal role in the Haredi world is explained in more detail here.) The late Neturei Karta leader Moshe Hirsh was a close associate of Yasser Arafat, and Weiss has traveled with a delegation to Tehran more than once, including on a trip to attend a Holocaust revisionism conference (Weiss, whose grandparents perished at Aushwitz, is not himself a Holocaust denier, but he happily played token Jewish friend to those who are).
Paul undoubtedly knew nothing about any of this. When I arrived late at the town hall event in Meredith, he was prefacing an answer to a question about Israel by expressing admiration for Zionist principles of independence and self-reliance, going on to say, of course, that Israel shouldn't get any US aid. (Paul, or someone on his staff, has clearly read this Jeffrey Goldberg post.) He went on to make a somewhat odd suggestion, which Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post zeroed in on, that Israel should "become the Hong Kong of the Middle East, or something like that. You know, have a really affluent society." It's the "become" part that makes this strange; Israel is already more affluent and democratic than her neighbors.
On the way out, I overheard a late-middle-aged Ron Paul supporter, identifiable by button and sticker, talking to one of the Neturei Karta guys, saying that "The Zionist are godless atheists ... they only believe in themselves." Ron Paul may not hate Israel, but people who hate Israel sure seem to like Ron Paul.
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