Commentary Magazine


Topic: Haim Saban

Clinton Previews 2016 Campaign?

The New Yorker’s David Remnick writes that Hillary Clinton’s Friday night address at the Saban Forum (and the fawning video introduction) left no doubt that she’s running in 2016:

Friday night, however, was on the record—and surprisingly revealing. Hillary Clinton was the main speaker. In a packed ballroom of the Willard Hotel, she was greeted with a standing ovation and then a short, adoring film, a video Festschrift testifying to her years as First Lady, senator, and, above all, secretary of state. The film, an expensive-looking production, went to the trouble of collecting interviews with Israeli politicians—Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni—and American colleagues, like John Kerry. Tony Blair, striking the moony futuristic note that was general in the hall, said, “I just have an instinct that the best is yet to come.” 

The film was like an international endorsement four years in advance of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. The tone was so reverential that it resembled the sort of film that the Central Committee of the Communist Party might have produced for Leonid Brezhnev’s retirement party if Leonid Brezhnev would only have retired and the Soviets had been in possession of advanced video technology. After it was over there was a separate video from the President. Looking straight into the camera, Obama kvelled at length: “You’ve been at my side at some of the most important moments of my Administration.”

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The New Yorker’s David Remnick writes that Hillary Clinton’s Friday night address at the Saban Forum (and the fawning video introduction) left no doubt that she’s running in 2016:

Friday night, however, was on the record—and surprisingly revealing. Hillary Clinton was the main speaker. In a packed ballroom of the Willard Hotel, she was greeted with a standing ovation and then a short, adoring film, a video Festschrift testifying to her years as First Lady, senator, and, above all, secretary of state. The film, an expensive-looking production, went to the trouble of collecting interviews with Israeli politicians—Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni—and American colleagues, like John Kerry. Tony Blair, striking the moony futuristic note that was general in the hall, said, “I just have an instinct that the best is yet to come.” 

The film was like an international endorsement four years in advance of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. The tone was so reverential that it resembled the sort of film that the Central Committee of the Communist Party might have produced for Leonid Brezhnev’s retirement party if Leonid Brezhnev would only have retired and the Soviets had been in possession of advanced video technology. After it was over there was a separate video from the President. Looking straight into the camera, Obama kvelled at length: “You’ve been at my side at some of the most important moments of my Administration.”

Haim Saban is one of Clinton’s biggest and most loyal financial backers, so it makes sense she’d start warming up for a 2016 run at his annual conference. Clinton’s speech — one of the few on the record at the forum — was heavy on foreign policy, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Well, look, I think Israelis have good grounds to be suspicious. And I would never be one who tries to rewrite or dismiss history. The Palestinians could have had a state as old as I am if they had made the right decision in 1947. They could have had a state if they had worked with my husband and then-Prime Minister Barak at Camp David. They could have had a state if they’d worked with Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni. …

I’m not making excuses for the missed opportunities of the Israelis, or the lack of generosity, the lack of empathy that I think goes hand-in-hand with the suspicion. So, yes, there is more that the Israelis need to do to really demonstrate that they do understand the pain of an oppressed people in their minds, and they want to figure out, within the bounds of security and a Jewish democratic state, what can be accomplished. …

And I think that, unfortunately, there are more and more Israelis and Palestinians who just reject that idea out of hand: Why bother? Why try? We’ll never be able to reach an agreement with the other. But in the last 20 years, I’ve seen Israeli leaders make an honest, good-faith effort and not be reciprocated in the way that was needed. …

So I think that – I really believe this with all my heart. I think that even if you cannot reach a complete agreement that resolves all these incredibly hard issues, it is in Israel’s interest to be trying. It gives Israel a moral high ground that I want Israel to occupy. That’s what I want Israel to occupy, the moral high ground.

The second paragraph is bad in context, and sounds even worse out-of-context (which is how it will be used in political ads). Suggesting that Israelis don’t understand the pain of an oppressed people, or aren’t generous enough isn’t exactly diplomatic coming from the secretary of state, and it’s not smart coming from someone who is presumably about to launch a presidential campaign. As Clinton said herself, the Israelis have made “honest, good-faith efforts” that haven’t been reciprocated. Maybe she tossed the comment in for some false “balance,” but she shouldn’t be surprised if it comes back at her during a presidential campaign.

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Saban Spouse Gets “Key” WH Nomination

Billionaire Democratic donor Haim Saban wrote an effusive New York Times op-ed praising Obama’s Israel policy earlier this month. Today, the White House announced that Saban’s wife, Cheryl, has been nominated to represent the U.S. at the upcoming UN General Assembly. Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I’m sure these were totally unconnected events, and Cheryl Saban beat out a line of career diplomats for this important honor based on her resume as an “author, philanthropist, and advocate for women and children,” as well as her very serious book What Is Your Self Worth? A Woman’s Guide to Validation.

The Free Beacon reports:

The White House announced Wednesday it has nominated Cheryl Saban, the wife of Univision chairman Haim Saban, to be a representative of the United States to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Cheryl Saban is described as an “author, philanthropist, and advocate for women and children” in the White House announcement, serving on boards of the Saban Research Institute, Girls Inc., and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. …

Cheryl Saban’s nomination comes less than a month after her husband penned a New York Times op-ed defending President Obama’s Israel record.

The position was a marked turn for the Egyptian-born Israeli-American, who criticized Obama personally in 2011 for not visiting Israel, and labeled in 2010 the Obama administration “really left leftists, so far to the left there’s not much space left between them and the wall.”

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Billionaire Democratic donor Haim Saban wrote an effusive New York Times op-ed praising Obama’s Israel policy earlier this month. Today, the White House announced that Saban’s wife, Cheryl, has been nominated to represent the U.S. at the upcoming UN General Assembly. Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I’m sure these were totally unconnected events, and Cheryl Saban beat out a line of career diplomats for this important honor based on her resume as an “author, philanthropist, and advocate for women and children,” as well as her very serious book What Is Your Self Worth? A Woman’s Guide to Validation.

The Free Beacon reports:

The White House announced Wednesday it has nominated Cheryl Saban, the wife of Univision chairman Haim Saban, to be a representative of the United States to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Cheryl Saban is described as an “author, philanthropist, and advocate for women and children” in the White House announcement, serving on boards of the Saban Research Institute, Girls Inc., and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. …

Cheryl Saban’s nomination comes less than a month after her husband penned a New York Times op-ed defending President Obama’s Israel record.

The position was a marked turn for the Egyptian-born Israeli-American, who criticized Obama personally in 2011 for not visiting Israel, and labeled in 2010 the Obama administration “really left leftists, so far to the left there’s not much space left between them and the wall.”

Here’s the White House press release touting the nomination as a “key administration post.”

Cheryl  Saban, Nominee for Representative of the United States of America to the Sixty-seventh Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

Cheryl Saban is an author, philanthropist, and advocate for women and children.   As an author, her work focuses predominantly on family, women’s empowerment, and healthcare.  In 2009, she founded the non-profit organization Women’s Self Worth Foundation.  Ms. Saban serves on the boards of The Saban Research Institute, Girls Inc., and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.  She is a member of the American Psychological Association.  Previously, she served on the Board of Overseers at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (2008-2011), the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Universal Preschool (2004-2007), and as a Commissioner for the City of Los Angeles Commission for Children, Youth, and Their Families (2002-2003).  She received a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from California Coast University.

Saban, a major pro-Israel Democratic donor, has been critical of Obama in the past, and indicated last year that he might not donate to Obama because of his Israel policy. He changed his tune recently when he reportedly pledged $1 million to pro-Obama super PACs, and penned the fawning Times op-ed. Obama has tended to give the UNGA representative position to top bundlers in the past, notably Elaine Schuster in 2009 and Carol Fulp in 2010, so his appointment of Cheryl Saban isn’t a surprise. But it certainly does shed light on what Saban’s getting for his support.

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Obama’s “Pro-Israel” Defenders

What timing. Not 24 hours after the Democratic National Committee issued a platform backtracking from its pro-Israel positions in 2008, billionaire entertainment mogul and formerly disgruntled Obama donor Haim Saban took up arms for the administration’s Israel record in the New York Times:

In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in annual military assistance to Israel that the president requests and that Congress routinely approves, assistance for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed deep personal appreciation. …

In contrast, through painstaking diplomacy, Mr. Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Obama secured European support for what even Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.” …

Finally, Mr. Obama has been steadfast against efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums. He has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies. As a sign of its support, the Obama administration even vetoed a Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, a resolution that mirrored the president’s position and that of every American administration since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Apparently that’s all it takes to convince Saban that the president is pro-Israel: providing military assistance, sanctioning Iran, and blocking Palestinian attempts to delegitimize Israel at the UN. That isn’t nothing, but it’s certainly the bare minimum. What would Obama’s other options have been? Cut off military aid? Veto Iranian sanctions legislation passed by congress? Forgo his power to block a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN?

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What timing. Not 24 hours after the Democratic National Committee issued a platform backtracking from its pro-Israel positions in 2008, billionaire entertainment mogul and formerly disgruntled Obama donor Haim Saban took up arms for the administration’s Israel record in the New York Times:

In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in annual military assistance to Israel that the president requests and that Congress routinely approves, assistance for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed deep personal appreciation. …

In contrast, through painstaking diplomacy, Mr. Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Obama secured European support for what even Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.” …

Finally, Mr. Obama has been steadfast against efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums. He has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies. As a sign of its support, the Obama administration even vetoed a Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, a resolution that mirrored the president’s position and that of every American administration since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Apparently that’s all it takes to convince Saban that the president is pro-Israel: providing military assistance, sanctioning Iran, and blocking Palestinian attempts to delegitimize Israel at the UN. That isn’t nothing, but it’s certainly the bare minimum. What would Obama’s other options have been? Cut off military aid? Veto Iranian sanctions legislation passed by congress? Forgo his power to block a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN?

Obama checked the boxes. He did what he had to do in these instances, and not an iota more. Even the Iron Dome funding that Saban touts in the column was one of those “bare minimum” obligations. Financial backing for Iron Dome was part of a deal struck by President Bush in 2007, and Obama fulfilled it. What else was he going to do? Break the promise? Oppose additional funding efforts from congress?

Saban goes on to set up a straw man that the only real grievance Obama critics have is that he hasn’t visited Israel yet:

So what’s the case against Mr. Obama? That he hasn’t visited Israel since he was a candidate in 2008? Perhaps these critics have forgotten that George W. Bush, that great friend of Israel, didn’t visit Jerusalem until his seventh year in office.

It was actually Saban who complained that Obama hadn’t visited Israel back in May 2011, when he indicated he might not contribute to Obama’s reelection campaign. That apparently changed after Saban had a personal meeting with Obama earlier this year, and donated $1 million to Democratic super PACs over the summer, as David Frum points out.

A common complaint from Israel supporters is that Obama doesn’t do enough to show his feelings for the Jewish state. But that seems far less important than what he does behind the scenes. Out of the public glare, the administration has tried to water down Iranian sanctions efforts in congress. They’ve also reportedly pressured Israel against taking action on Iran. Obama backtracked on agreements between Bush and Sharon on the 1967 lines — and then adamantly denied this was a policy change. His administration quietly scrubbed mentions of Jerusalem as an Israeli city from its websites, and — when caught — frantically tried to scrub them from Bush-era documents while claiming this had always been the policy. Obama expanded the standard interpretation of a settlement freeze, providing yet another excuse for Palestinian intransigence. And the Democratic National Committee weakened the pro-Israel language in its platform this year, in order to conform to Obama’s policies.

Pro-Israel Democrats have plenty of reasons to support Obama — but none that have anything to do with his Israel policy. They can try to spin Obama’s record as much as they want, but at the end of the day they’re just lowering the bar for what it means to be pro-Israel in the Democratic Party.

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