When billionaire Israeli American Haim Saban, one of the DNC’s top contributors, was recently reported to have vowed not to give money to Obama’s reelection campaign over his Israel stance, conservatives pounced. Here was a sign that Obama’s Mideast speeches had badly damaged his relationship with American Jewish voters and big donors!
But in an interview with me this morning, Saban sought to clear up what he said was a misrepresentation by the right of his position.
Saban told me that he did not view Obama as anti-Israel and that he would donate the maximum to Obama’s campaign if asked. And while he said he had problems with the timing of Obama’s announcement, he stated that he has no problem with the substance of Obama’s position, and said conservatives had misrepresented it in order to drive away Obama’s Jewish support.
“If solicited, I will absolutely write a check to the level allowed by law,” Saban said. “I don’t agree that he’s anti-Israel.”
The whole tale got started when Commentary magazine reported recently that Saban had broken with Obama in the wake of his Mideast speeches. The story cited a CNBC interview in which Saban suggested Obama didn’t need his money, and conservatives noted with much satisfaction that big Jewish donors and voters would conclude his speech revealed him to be hostile to Israel.
But Saban told me that he doesn’t have a problem with the substance of Obama’s position, which has been widely distorted by the right as a call for Israel to “return” to pre-1967 borders.
“I don’t have a problem with that statement,” Saban said. “Obama didn’t call for the return to 1967 borders. He said on the basis of 1967 with land swaps, which by definition means not 1967 borders.”
Saban clarified that he did have certain problems with Obama’s positions on Israel, which he called “perplexing,” and faulted certain aspects of the 1967 proposal. “I have a problem with the way it was presented and I have a problem with the timing,” Saban said, questioning Obama’s decision to call publicly at this point for the 1967 lines with swaps to be the basis of talks, which he said could weaken Israel in negotiations. But he added: “It’s only about form.”
Saban criticized Obama for not stating explicitly that Israel should make no concessions without a guarantee of an end to the conflict. But he allowed that Obama had implied in his speeches that this was his position. Saban also allowed that Obama had also said Israelis and Palestinians should reach a final deal by themselves.
Saban said he thought the speech could cause Obama some trouble with some Jewish voters and donors. “Fundraising is going to get hurt,” he predicted. But he also predicted that Obama was likely to repair any problems with Jewish voters and donors before the election.
Saban said Obama’s right wing critics were painting Obama as anti-Israel and misrepresenting his positions for political reasons.
“They are twisting his words,” Saban said. “They want to move Jewish votes from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.”
UPDATE: One of the things Saban finds “perplexing” about Obama’s approach, he says, is that he has yet to visit Israel as president, something Saban described as a major problem.
“He’s given a major speech to the Islamic world,” Saban says. “Why in the world has he not gone to Israel? Why doesn’t he go so that they see that he’s not anti israel and that he means well?”