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The American billionaires influencing Israeli policy

Israeli-born American billionaires like Haim Saban and Dr. Miriam Adelson influence Israeli politics and the fate of the country, without assuming the consequences.
Haim Saban (R) and Cheryl Saban (L) arrive for a State Dinner honoring Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the White House in Washington October 18, 2016. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan - RTX2PFE5

The Oct. 14 appearance of Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories — B’Tselem, before the UN Security Council to address the twin issues of Jewish construction in the occupied territories and the demolition of Palestinian homes there generated a slew of Israeli condemnations against Israeli peace and human rights groups.

B’Tselem was castigated not only for airing Israel’s dirty laundry on the world stage, but also for crossing the line between legitimate objective reporting of Israeli human rights abuses in Area C, which is under Israeli control, and actively encouraging the international community to do something about it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described B’Tselem as a “flash in the pan,” an organization seeking to use international force to accomplish what it failed to achieve through democratic elections. Al-Monitor columnist Mazal Mualem argued that El-Ad had played into the hands of the right, dubbing his appearance “imprudent.” On the other hand, Al-Monitor columnist Shlomi Eldar wrote that the activities of these organizations on the international stage is clear proof to the world that only part of the Israeli public supports the continuation of the occupation. The editorial board of Israeli daily Haaretz also praised B’Tselem, and argued that not only was it the organization’s right to sound its important and courageous message to members of the UN Security Council, it was its duty.

As we know, the prime minister considered his March 2015 speech before Congress in an effort to undermine the Obama administration’s policy on Iran as a heroic act. But one can only surmise how Netanyahu would have reacted if opposition head Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Camp would have invited to the Knesset the US president, for him to express his objection to the Israeli government’s settlement policy.

Netanyahu can teach the left a thing or two about operating abroad. More than once, as head of the opposition, he tried to undermine the policy of the Rabin government by mobilizing foreign pressure to achieve what he had failed to accomplish in democratic elections.

In the mid-1990s, he backed a campaign waged by Israeli right-wingers in American-Jewish organizations and on Capitol Hill against a peace agreement with Syria, which was supposed to include the deployment of a US peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights. Also, Netanyahu was one of the chefs who, along with congressional Republicans, cooked up the legislation mandating the move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (Jerusalem Embassy Act), intending to sabotage peace talks with the Palestinians. This was all done behind the back of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It is safe to assume that Netanyahu would not have come out against an appearance of Avi Roeh, the chairman of the Yesha Council that represents the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, at the Security Council to regale its members with tales of the settlers’ contribution to the welfare of their Palestinian neighbors.

If the course charted by Netanyahu and Roeh leads Israel to the abyss, they both will be there. They live in the State of Israel, watch as their children and grandchildren perform their compulsory military service and pay taxes into the state’s coffers. By the same token, if the activities of El-Ad and his colleagues on the left to expose the injustice of the occupation result in the imposition of foreign sanctions on Israel, all Israeli citizens — without any exemption — would pay the price. No left-wingers would be exempt.

But there are a handful of Israelis who influence the fate of the nation from afar and bear no personal responsibility for their deeds. They travel to Israel on their private jets and enter the country on Israeli passports, and they use their American passports to gain entry back into the United States. Their substantial fortunes have built a golden bridge for them between the leaderships in Israel and the United States. Using this bridge, they amassed tremendous political influence that also buys them respect and prestige. Prominent among this group are billionaires Haim Saban and Dr. Miriam Adelson.

Saban, 72, who left Israel in the mid-1970s, is considered one of the biggest donors to the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. According to June 2015 email correspondence between Saban and Clinton’s advisers, made public on WikiLeaks Oct. 11, Saban urged that she distance herself from President Barack Obama’s policies on Israel “so that she can recapture the 11% lost between 2012 and 1992” in Jewish support for the Democrats. It is no secret that Obama’s policies on Israel includes rejecting Netanyahu and his settlement policy.

And, indeed, Clinton was quick to promise that immediately upon her election she would invite Netanyahu to the White House; not a word about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. According to Saban, the Israeli-American who is a close associate of Clinton and major funder, in order to be elected for a second term in 2020, Clinton would have to distance herself from Obama’s policy and maintain close relations with Netanyahu for the next four years, too.

Adelson, 71, emigrated from Israel to the United States at the end of the 1980s and has lived there ever since. The marriage of American Jewish tycoon Sheldon Adelson to the doctor from Haifa, who does not hide her right-wing views, nor her admiration for Netanyahu, brought the gambling mogul closer to Israel and to the prime minister. A member of Congress or presidential candidate who dares mention the word “occupation” must wipe Adelson off his list of campaign contributors.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who referred to the West Bank as “occupied territories,” was forced to apologize to the casino king for his slip of the tongue. “Adelson personifies everything that is poisoning our democracy and Israel’s today — swaggering oligarchs, using huge sums of money to try to bend each system to their will,” columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times at the time.

Having said that, the main problem is not with places of residence of Saban or Adelson — and not even their political leanings — but the damage they cause to Israel’s true interests. Much as Netanyahu keeps saying, Israel is committed to the two-state solution, in order to insure its Jewish and democratic character. Anyone acting against this principle, has no right pretending to be Israel’s best friend.

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