If you’d like to get an unvarnished look at the Israel lobby in action, go no further than the May 10 edition of The New Yorker, and read Connie Bruck’s painful portrait of Haim Saban, the Israeli billionaire who is probably the single most important person in The Lobby in the entire United States. “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel,” says Saban.
My favorite juxtaposition in the article: at one point, Saban says that he gave a U.S. official “my two cents” about U.S. policy concerning Israel, whereas in fact Saban has given countless millions of dollars to American politicians, including $7 million all at once to the Democratic National Committee.
And Saban, who wanted his own thinktank, got one: he created the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, housed at the Brookings Institution. (Saban forked over $13 million to Brookings for the center, which Brookings gratefully named after him.)
In the New Yorker piece, Saban comes across as a political thug, a wheeler dealer and a tax cheat, a billionaire (net worth: $3.3 billion, according to Forbes) who throws his money around for explicitly political and pro-Israel causes, a tough-talking womanizer who once had thirty-nine girlfriends all at once, a sleazy businessmen who has left a trail of angry and bitter associates in his wake, and more. If you don’t believe me, read the whole article.
Some key points:
Saban says in the article that he’s desperately in search of buying media outlets that he can transform into overtly pro-Israel mouthpieces. He’s tried to buy the New York Times, Time, and Newsweek, and now that Newsweek is for sale, he might get his wish. He’s tried repeatedly to purchase the Los Angeles Time. Reports Bruck:
“In targeting media properties, Saban frankly acknowledges his political agenda. He has tried repeatedly to buy the Los Angeles Times, because, he said, ‘I thought it was time that it turn from a pro-Palestinian paper into a balanced paper.’ He went on, ‘During the period of the second intifada, Jews were being killed every day over there, and this paper was publishing images of a Palestinian woman sitting with her dead child, and, on the Israeli side, a destroyed house. I got sick of it.’”
Bruch describes how unhappy Saban was when Barack Obama refused to echo Hillary Clinton’s call to “obliterate” Iran if Iran attacked Israel. When Saban sought Obama out, the Obama campaign stiff-armed him, to their everlasting credit, and Saban has held a grudge against Obama ever since. As Bruck reports:
“His [Saban’s] voice grew louder. ‘I need to understand what that means. So I had a list of questions like that. And Chicago’—Obama campaign headquarters—‘could not organize that meeting. … I was ready and willing to be helpful, but ‘helpful’ is not to write a check for two thousand three hundred dollars. It’s to raise millions, which I am fully capable of doing. But Chicago wasn’t able to deliver the meeting, so I couldn’t get on board.’
“Saban offered to fly his group of Hillary supporters to meet with Obama anywhere in the country, but he was told that it couldn’t be arranged. ‘Haim understands message—Obama didn’t have time for him,’ a close adviser said. ‘After that, he met with McCain. It went that far. But, ultimately, he felt he could not abandon the Democratic Party, even though he did not like its candidate.’“He has not spoken with Obama since he became President, Saban said, ‘because he has no need to speak to me—or, at least, he thinks he has no need to.’ He has refused on two occasions to co-chair fund-raising dinners for the President.“Saban called Hillary’s defeat ‘my biggest loss—and not only mine. I’ll leave it at that.’”
Bruck’s piece is brilliant and devastating.