August 23, 2006
As Israel prepares for round two in its battle against Hizbullah, and Iran moves onto a war footing with a defensive mobilization and with the US already at war in the Middle East, the California governor's race has become a crucible of American politics. In the politically charged world of Hollywood, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has triggered a minor realignment on the Democratic right and some familiar names are now in the process of moving across the partisan divide.
Israeli billionaire Haim Saban endorses the 'Governator’ - and so do Stephen Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg
Led by billionaire media mogul, Haim Saban, several prominent Hollywood Democrats: James Campbell, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jerry Zucker and and Bud Yorkin have announced their support for the Republican 'Governorator,’ Arnold Schwarzenegger, who once pitched a film that featured an unlikely hero, an "Everyman" characterized as a kind and decent Nazi caught up in the violent conflict of the Second World War. How Schwarzenegger planned to treat his character’s anti-Semitism remains obscure.
In recent months, Hollywood billionaire Haim Saban's support for the Democratic Party came under intensifying public scrutiny. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt focused on Saban's growing political influence in their paper, The Israel Lobby. Describing Saban as an "ardent Zionist," Mearsheimer and Walt demonstrated the formidable power base of the Israel Lobby in both political parties.
Reflecting on Mearsheimer and Walt, one of America's leading experts in international law, Dr. Francis Boyle, has dubbed the Democratic Party, "a front group for the Israel Lobby." To a growing number of Americans, Boyle appears to be correct. Saban – not known for his restraint - has vacationed with former president, Bill Clinton, a fragment of evidence that supports the lamentations of Boyle, Mearsheimer and Walt.
A gifted, brilliant and industrious man, Saban was born into the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt. In the mid-fifties when the Arab-Israeli wars made their lives as Jews in Egypt more difficult, Saban and his family immigrated to Israel. There, he eventually became involved in promotional and sales activities. In the seventies, Saban relocated to France, where he operated a successful music business.
In the eighties, Saban left France for Hollywood and turned his hand to composing music for films - not major films mind you, but popular ones - and, of course, for television – with an emphasis on children’s TV. Eventually, his success with music, scores and production for films and television series including: Heathcliff: The Movie; The Super Mario Brothers, Super Show!; Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie; Lord Zedd’s Monster Heads: The Greatest Villains of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Casper meets Wendy put him in position to sell his production company, Fox Family Worldwide, to Disney for a personal profit that made him a billionaire overnight. For years, Saban has been a business partner of neoconservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, another billionaire who admires George Bush and Tony Blair. Murdoch is the owner of Fox News and News International. Reports in the financial press indicate that Saban’s personal profit from the Fox-Disney transaction was $1.6 billion.
Today, Saban presides over the Saban Capital Group where he is currently in the process of negotiations for further media acquisitions. Criticized for the violent content of his children’s programming, Saban is regarded as a tough businessman with decidedly right-wing views. Saban makes no secret of his keen support for the neoconservative policies of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, John Bolton, James Woolsey, Daniel Pipes and Donald Rumsfeld.
Saban’s rise to power is much more familiar to Europeans than Americans. When Saban acquired Germany’s largest privately owned television network, he became the media mogul of Germany. An acquisitive investor, Saban also owns a major interest in Keshet, an Israeli television broadcaster. He is a power in Israeli politics as well as a major shareholder (30-45.7%) in Bezeq, the formerly state-owned Israeli telecommunications provider. Bezeq was part of a privatization package that required intense negotiations between Saban and the Israeli government.
With major political clout in Tel Aviv and Berlin, Saban claims to swing a lot of weight in the United States as well where he is known to wield the balance of power in right-wing Democratic Party circles. In Washington, Saban is known to have given twelve million dollars to the Democratic Party. His contributions to the Labour Party of Israel have not entered the mainstream media, but they are known to have been substantial. According to reports from party insiders, Saban’s political support comes with heavy strings attached. In an interview with the New York Times, Saban casually admitted, "I’m a one issue guy, and my issue is Israel."
In addition to his political power in Washington and Tel Aviv, Saban gives large tax-deductible amounts to US-based charities – enough to dwarf his non-tax-deductible political contributions. Saban and his wife, Cheryl, preside over the Saban Family Foundation, their private philanthropic organization. Recently, the Sabans funded the establishment of the forty million dollar Saban Research Institute based at its sparkling new building at Sunset Boulevard and Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. The Sabans are deeply interested in medical research. According to their biography published on the website of Childrens’ Hospital of Los Angeles, two of their children, Ness and Tanya, were born after a surrogate was used for gestation.
Scientific research is not Saban’s sole charitable interest. He is a major contributor to the prestigious Washington think tank, The Brookings Institution, where a generous endowment established the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Dr. Martin Indyk directs the Saban Center. Indyk was the founding executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), an organization that is frequently described as the military-industrial wing of the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC). Mearsheimer and Walt discuss AIPAC, WINEP and Indyk’s crucial importance to the Israel Lobby at some length in "The Israel Lobby."
Indyk is the originator of the policy of "dual containment" that called for a substantial increase in US troop levels in the Persian Gulf. While he was working at WINEP, Indyk proposed his dual containment policy. In the 1990s under Clinton’s presidency, Indyk moved smoothly from WINEP to the National Security Council where he implemented the dual containment policy that has been celebrated by Daniel Pipes and his fellow neoconservatives for over ten years. Dual containment was the strategic platform for the neoconservative foreign policy that has unfolded under George Bush and Dick Cheney. In the final stages of Clinton’s presidency, Indyk was a key figure at the unsuccessful Camp David peace negotiations.
A ranking expert on the middle-east with a strong and clear pro-Israel record of achievement, Indyk has published analyses of the threats to security posed by Iran and Iraq that have helped to shape the strategic agenda for the neoconservatives in the Bush White House and the Pentagon. In 2002, Saban appointed Indyk to the position of Director of the Saban Center at Brookings.
Earlier this month at a posh party to honor of an Iranian dissident, Saban committed what many see as a faux pas. At a Hollywood reception held in honor of the celebrated Iranian dissident, Akbar Ganji, Saban’s one issue attitude to the state of Israel led to a confrontation with the guest of honor. Before an audience of eighty celebrities who had accepted invitations from Mike Medavoy to meet Ganji, Saban’s pointed remarks caused a scene. During Ganji's address, the Iranian nuclear project became a point of contention between Ganji and Saban. Ganji advocated total disarmament of the Middle East, but Saban objected sharply and argued that Israel needed its nuclear arsenal. During their exchange, Saban made an insensitive remark characterizing the Palestinian people as suicide bombers a crude tactic that introduced a double standard by demonizing all Muslims as terrorists. Precisely what point Saban was attempting to make remains obscure to this day, but he was apparently proposing that the Israeli nuclear arsenal is justified as a deterrent to the suicide bombing in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank although it seems doubtful that he was actually proposing an Israeli nuclear attack on Ramallah. When Saban launched his peculiar insult, Ganji reacted very coolly. With calm self-assurance, Ganji replied, "The only way is to ban the bombs for everyone." With that smooth put down, Saban lost face.
Medavoy's party was attended by eighty celebrities including: Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Jake Gylenhaal and Mark Ruffalo who all witnessed Saban's clumsy and embarrassing attempt to discredit the guest of honor. They were not impressed. Ganji had just been released from a six-year prison term in Iran. After the contretemps, the audience snubbed Saban. Mark Ruffalo was quoted in the Los Angeles Times, praising Ganji, "This has put a whole new face on Iran for me. It deepens it and makes it more human."
In the aftermath of the Medavoy party, the political fallout is now perfectly obvious. Saban has stalked out of the Democratic Party and taken Spielberg, Katzenberg, Zucker and Yorkin with him. Mearsheimer and Walt might describe this realignment as a decisive move by the pro-Israel faction of Hollywood that is now in the process of jumping from the Democratic ship and moving over to the Republican Party. Perhaps, this epiphenomenon is only local and will be contained in California, but there is polling evidence that indicates the Orthodox Hebrew community in America is more attuned to the values of the Republicans than to the Democrats. Fortunately for the Democrats, this will probably be a relatively small leakage, as the vast majority of American Jews are liberal and progesssive in sharp distinction to Saban, Indyk and their ilk. So, too are many Jews in Hollywood. Barbara Streisand, Elliot Gould, Alan Alda and many more come readily to mind as lifelong liberals and progressives.
At the same time, many Jewish leaders in California have been sharply critical of the policies of the government of Israel especially during its recent losing war against Hizbullah. Rabbi Michael Lerner, the founder of Tikkun, a liberal Jewish organization, recently accused the Olmert government of serious ethical violations of traditional Hebrew morality. Rabbi Lerner implored Americans to, "challenge Israeli policy – (because) Israel has crossed a moral boundary." Elaborating on his theme, Rabbi Lerner charged, "It’s impossible as a Jew and as an American to not notice that a new human rights violation by Israel has taken place which manages to surpass many of its previous violations in cruelty and in the outrage it has generated." Rabbi Lerner’s pleas were apparently lost on the man who became a billionaire by pandering the moral authority of Power Ranger ultra-violence and the principle of might makes right to under-age children.
If the current trend goes national, the political faction that Mearsheimer and Walt dubbed, "The Israel Lobby" appears to be transforming their coats into that plain Republican cloth that another California politician named "Richard Nixon" touted in his famous Checkers Speech. Ironically, since the death of Nixon, Watergate tapes have been released that reveal Nixon’s rabid anti-Semitism, his hatred and suspicion of people he termed, "The Jews." Eventually, the attitudes of rank and file Republicans to Jewish concerns may cause some of Saban's disloyal group to regret their support of Schwarzenegger and his heavyweight neoconservative brand of Republican Party Lite.
Apparently Saban has not learned that mainstream political parties in the US are never devoted to one and only "one issue" - even when they are bullied by their most generous and well-meaning contributors, and much less those who split their allegiances between rival parties and nations other than the United States of America and the constitutional democracy for which it stands.
Michael Carmichael became a professional public affairs consultant, author and broadcaster in 1968. He worked in five American presidential campaigns for progressive candidates from RFK to Clinton. In 2003, he founded The Planetary Movement, a nonprofit public affairs organization based in the United Kingdom. He has appeared as a public affairs expert on the BBC's Today, Hardtalk, and PM, as well as numerous appearances on BBC FiveLive, ITN, NPR and European broadcasts examining politics and culture. He can be reached through his website: www.planetarymovement.org
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The Israel Lobby by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt
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Haim Saban – Sourcewatch
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Two Cheers for Dual Containment by Daniel Pipes