MEREDITH, N.H. – At a campaign event that drew more than 300 people here late Sunday afternoon, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) defended his Israel policy in response to a question from an undecided voter, an answer that included, in part, the suggestion that Israel “should be the Hong Kong of the Middle East.”

Rep Ron Paul (R-Texas). (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

He went on to defend his position that the United States should not provide foreign aid to Israel and should not “tell them what to do.”

“If they want to have a peace treaty with their neighbors and they think they can work it out, they shouldn’t have to ask us for permission,” Paul said. “They shouldn’t have to ask us permission to defend their borders. That should be their business. But also, I do not believe that I should take money from anybody here and send money to Israel.”

He then rounded out his answer with the Hong Kong comparison. “We should be friends,” he said. “We should trade with them. I would encourage them to become the Hong Kong of the Middle East, or something like that. You know, have a really affluent society.”

Paul’s foreign policy views have cut both ways in the Republican primary – he has attracted many independents who have said that they oppose the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the same time, he has drawn broad criticism – including from most members of the GOP field – for his non-interventionist views, and his Israel stance in particular has proven a stumbling block among a Republican electorate that typically considers support for the Jewish state sacrosanct.

Paul’s answer on Israel, then, is not likely to reassure voters who are already wary of his foreign policy views.

A Suffolk poll released Sunday morning shows Paul gaining in momentum as the New Hampshire primary nears: He takes 20 percent to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s 35 percent. A day earlier, Paul was at 17 percent compared to Romney at 39 percent.