Why does Haim Saban prefer Obama over Romney?

In 2004 Haim Saban told a New York Times reporter: “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.” That’s only important because Saban is a billionaire media mogul and generous political campaign donor who has contributed to individuals and lobbying organizations. Indeed, Saban’s desire to influence US foreign policy on Israel has been no secret. He made his views and objectives clear in two long articles in the New York Times and the New Yorker, even listing for Connie Bruck “three ways to be influential” in US politics: “make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets.” According to Bruck, in “targeting media properties, Saban frankly acknowledges his political agenda” and “repeatedly” tried to buy the Los Angeles Times because he considered it pro-Palestinian. Saban’s donations to the prominent Brookings Institution also resulted in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, a Washington think tank frequently used as a resource by media professionals in search of expert quotables.

Bruck revealed in 2010 that Saban had maintained an enduring friendship with the Clintons and withheld from donating to Barak Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign after Obama failed to convince Saban that he would continue Clinton’s stated position on Israel and Iran:

For example, Saban continued, “Obama was asked the same question Hillary was asked—‘If Iran nukes Israel, what would be your reaction?’ Hillary said, ‘We will obliterate them.’ We . . . will . . . obliterate . . . them. Four words, it’s simple to understand. Obama said only three words. He would ‘take appropriate action.’ I don’t know what that means. A rogue state that is supporting killing our men and women in Iraq; that is a supporter of Hezbollah, which killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization; that is a supporter of Hamas, which shot twelve thousand rockets at Israel—that rogue state nukes a member of the United Nations, and we’re going to ‘take appropriate action’! ” His voice grew louder. “I need to understand what that means. So I had a list of questions like that. And Chicago”—Obama campaign headquarters—“could not organize that meeting. ‘Schedule, heavy schedule.’ I was ready and willing to be helpful, but ‘helpful’ is not to write a check for two thousand three hundred dollars. It’s to raise millions, which I am fully capable of doing. But Chicago wasn’t able to deliver the meeting, so I couldn’t get on board.”

But a little over 2 months before the 2012 presidential election, Saban explains in the Times that Mitt Romney’s unclear foreign policy simply doesn’t stand up to Obama’s firm support for Israel, and that’s why he is endorsing and contributing to the Obama campaign:

When he visited Israel as a candidate he saw firsthand how vulnerable Israeli villagers were to rocket attacks from Gaza. As president, he responded by providing full financing and technical assistance for Israel’s Iron Dome short-range anti-rocket defense system, which is now protecting those villagers. 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.

When the first President Bush had disagreements with Israel over its settlement policy, he threatened to withhold loan guarantees from Israel. Mr. Obama has had his own disagreements with Mr. Netanyahu over the settlers but has never taken such a step. To the contrary, he has increased aid to Israel and given it access to the most advanced military equipment, including the latest fighter aircraft.

Ask any senior Israeli official involved in national security, and he will tell you that the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger than under President Obama. “I can hardly remember a better period of American support and backing, and Israeli cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us,” the defense minister, Ehud Barak, said last year, “than what we have right now.”

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.