LOS ANGELES - Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul defended his record on Israel Wednesday after a former aide said the congressman favored abolishing the nation.

"Dr. Paul is the most pro-Israel candidate in this race," campaign spokesman Gary Howard said in an emailed statement.

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"He is the only leader who will stop sending tens of billions of dollars in aid and arms to her Arab enemies, cut off subsidies to companies who do business with Iran, and allow Israel to defend herself as she sees fit, without the permission and interference of the US or the United Nations."

Although a longshot to win the Republican presidential race, Paul is a leading contender for next Tuesday's Republican caucus vote in Iowa -- the first nominating contest in the nation. Paul previously drew fire for anti-Israeli and racist, anti-gay messages contained in newsletters published under his name two decades ago.

Last Friday, a spokesman for Paul said the congressman apologized for not paying enough attention to "ghost writers" he said were responsible for the remarks in question and repeated the congressman's disavowal of those views.

But in a lengthy statement posted earlier this week on the blog site RightWingNews.com, former congressional aide Eric Dondero said his one-time boss had long harbored stridently anti-Israel opinions that he often expressed privately.

Dondero, 49, who said he served as Paul's senior aide in his Gulf Coast district from 1997 through 2003, denied ever seeing evidence that Paul was anti-Semitic.

"He is, however, most certainly, anti-Israel," Dondero wrote. "He wishes the Israeli state did not exist at all. He expressed this to me numerous times in our private conversations.

"His view is that Israel is more trouble than it is worth, specifically to the American taxpayer," Dondero continued. "He sides with the Palestinians and supports their calls for the abolishment of the Jewish state, and the return of Israel, all of it, to the Arabs."

A leading Jewish human rights organization had called on Paul on Wednesday to address Dondero's assertions regarding the candidate's position on Israel.

"We hope that (Paul) would confront this issue," Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, told Reuters on Wednesday. He noted more than 60 years of bipartisan US support for the Jewish state.

"If he says that his principal aide was mistaken and that he never said that, that's one thing. But if he adheres to such a position, that he believes there ought not be an Israel, that should be a wake-up call to America."

The Wiesenthal Center is not the first Jewish group to express consternation with the Texas congressman over Israel.

The Republican Jewish Coalition declined to invite him to its Dec. 7 candidates forum, citing what it called his extreme views following a debate in November in which Paul argued that the United States should be less involved in Israeli affairs.

"They can take care of themselves," he said then. "Why do we have this automatic commitment that we're going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel?"

Paul has called for reduced foreign aid generally.

Dondero, a Navy veteran, acknowledged that Paul's supporters previously dismissed him as a "disgruntled former employee," and said he parted company with Paul in early 2004 over sharp differences on foreign policy matters.

Speaking to Reuters on Wednesday, Dondero, who publishes his own LibertarianRepublican.net blog and earns a living gathering petition signatures for ballot proposals around the country, stood by his assessment of his former boss.

He said he wrote about Paul in response to requests from other conservative blog writers seeking greater insights into the congressman's views.

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