by Eli Clifton
Last week I touched on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) largely unnoticed Senate resolution demanding a “swift and transparent” investigation into the death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman. The resolution, which also accused Argentina’s president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of conspiring “to cover up Iranian involvement in the 1994 terrorist bombing” that was investigated by Nisman, seemed to kill two birds with one stone. Rubio, who has positioned himself as a staunch neoconservative in a crowded GOP presidential primary field, bolstered his credentials as a hardline Iran hawk while helping further the financial interests of Elliott Management. Managed by GOP megadonor Paul Singer, the hedge fund just so happens to have been Rubio’s second biggest source of campaign contributions between 2009 and 2014.
Singer, as we’ve detailed extensively on this blog, is seeking full repayment on $2 billion of Argentine debt, which his fund bought for pennies on the dollar. Elliott’s campaign to seek repayment has incorporated a number of legal and extrajudicial strategies, including painting Kirchner, who has sworn to resist Singer’s pressure campaign, as anti-Semitic and a close friend of Iran.
But Rubio has another donor with an interesting foreign policy agenda, which runs well outside the mainstream.
Rubio’s Financial Muscle
The Saturday New York Times profiled billionaire auto dealer Norman Braman as the financial powerhouse behind Rubio’s stunning political ascendancy on the Florida and national political stages. Braman is Rubio’s single biggest campaign donor, expected to spend $10-25 million on Rubio’s presidential campaign.
Braman’s generosity goes beyond funding Rubio’s campaigns. According to the Times, “[Braman] hired Mr. Rubio, then a Senate candidate, as a lawyer; employed his wife to advise the Braman family’s philanthropic foundation; helped cover the cost of Mr. Rubio’s salary as an instructor at a Miami college; and gave Mr. Rubio access to his private plane.” Rubio, in turn, directed public funds to causes favored by Braman, including $80 million to fund a genomics center at the University of Miami (where Braman served as vice chair of the board of trustees) and $5 million for cancer research at a Miami institute Braman supports.
A hint to how Rubio’s mentor-mentee (and apparent quid-pro-quo) relationship with Braman might play out if Rubio were elected president can be found in Braman’s discarded family foundation, the successor to which is advised by Rubio’s wife, Jeanette. Between 2004 and 2008, Brahman’s family foundation contributed $311,000 to American Friends of Ariel, an organization that funds the development of Ariel, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
The settlement is located on the other side of Israel’s 1967 border—a border that the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations have uniformly endorsed as the basis for a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and a future Palestinian state. As such, Ariel is illegal under international law and in direct contradiction of U.S. policy.
Braman helped promote and raise money for the settlement at a 2007 “Peace with Security Dinner” for American Friends of Ariel, held in Fort Lauderdale. Braman served as honorary chairman of the dinner and the “dinner committee” included Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein and bingo-magnate Irving Moskowitz, a high profile funder of Israeli settlements.
Last year, Ariel mayor Eliyahu Shaviro made an “inaugural trip to the USA” in which he met with “generous supporters like Norman Braman,” according to a Friends of Ariel press release.
Braman hasn’t just spoken through his pocket book. Blogger Phil Weiss flagged a 2011 interview with Braman in which the billionaire said his primary concern with the struggling U.S. economy is that “a strong America is the greatest factor which insures a great Israel and a sustaining Israel. A weak America poses a threat to the future of Israel.”
Braman expressed worry about “young Jews living here who really do not understand how much Israel means to them,” and declared the United Nations has “developed into organizations that have one basic purpose, and that is to discredit Israel and actually delegitimize Israel.”
Views on Israeli-Palestinian Relations
And Braman isn’t sold on the two-state solution. He characterizes Muslim intellectuals as “more hostile to peace and relationships with Israel,” and describes “the fundamental problem” with the peace process as, “How do you make peace with people who want to destroy you and are dedicated to your destruction?”
Indeed, when viewed through such a pessimistic worldview, contributing to settlement construction, which serves as an impediment to a two-state solution, would seem relatively harmless.
That’s not a worldview shared by any U.S. president. But it might be U.S. policy if Braman gets his preferred candidate elected.
A Rubio presidency might break away from the current bipartisan consensus in support of a two-state solution along the pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed-upon swaps.
Back in October, the Obama administration criticized the Israeli government for approving new settlement construction in East Jerusalem. Rubio, as reported by The Hill, shot back:
The Obama administration’s decision to criticize Israel for housing construction in Jerusalem, even as the President hosted Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House yesterday, was deplorable,” Rubio said Thursday. “This is another case of President Obama’s bizarre logic of tearing down our closest partners while building up those who do not share our values.
Indeed, Rubio has gone out of his way to stake out a series of far-right positions and neoconservative foreign policy positions, even going so far as telling the Associated Press that he’d “absolutely” be willing to scuttle Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and defy European allies if elected president. He also proposed an amendment to the Corker-Cardin bill that would have required Iran to recognize Israel as part of any nuclear agreement.
One thing is clear: Braman and Singer seem to like what they’re hearing as Rubio emerges as the GOP presidential candidate most sympathetic to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government, although he has heavy competition. Rubio, for his part, appears to be on a well-paid campaign to disrupt diplomacy with Iran as well as any possibility of a two-state solution between Israel and a future Palestinian state.