He is the “kingmaker.” In a presidential election year like this one, Haim Saban is The Jerusalem Post’s choice to top its list of 50 most influential Jews.
An Israeli-American media titan and billionaire businessman, Saban is one of the closest people to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She is a regular attendee each winter of the Saban Forum in Washington DC, and he has reportedly contributed more than $10 million to the Clinton campaign this year alone.
Born in Egypt and raised in Israel, Saban, 71, is intimately involved in the Clinton campaign. He is not only contributing large sums of money to her campaign, but is also on a mission – to explain to Israelis and American Jews that the former first lady and secretary of state is the right person to serve as president and not just for America.
Clinton, he says in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post
, will keep Israel safe. Trump, he warns, will not.
In addition to his political involvement, Saban, together with his wife Cheryl, regularly tops charts as the single-largest donor to the Friends of the IDF. The star-studded galas he helps organize, raise over $30m. annually largely due to Saban’s own contributions and Hollywood connections.
Over the years, the two have also donated at least $10m. to the Clinton Foundation.
Saban is also in the media business.
He is the chairman of the Spanish-language media giant Univision which recently purchased Gawker media for $135m.
In the interview, he didn’t dismiss the possibility of one day entering the Israeli media market, although he said he was not actively considering investments in any Israeli newspapers or TV news stations.
Politically, Saban has been a strong proponent of a twostate solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2002, he founded the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution which changed its name in 2014 to the Center for Middle East Policy.
Regarding the relationship between American Jews and Israel, Saban said that he is in a “total state of panic” and that the lack of acceptance of Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel is a “massive mistake.”
“There will be much less Jewish influence in Washington. That is the price Israel is going to pay unless Israel embraces all Jews,” he cautioned.
However the upcoming presidential elections play out, Saban is someone to keep an eye on. If Clinton wins, he will play an important role as a go-between for the president and the Israeli prime minister and someone who could be called on to prevent another four years of tense ties between Jerusalem and Washington.
We met during one of Saban’s recent visits to Israel. Below are excerpts from the interview: When you look at Israel today, 68 years after the state was established, what do you feel of its accomplishments?
Emotionally [I’m] extremely tied to Israel. It is exemplified by the fact that every time when we come to land here and I get next to the shore, I get tears in my eyes. That’s just a sensation, it’s a feeling that has no explanation and frankly, I don’t look for an explanation for it. This is just the way I feel.
That’s for starters. Because of the way I feel about Israel I am extremely committed to its well-being. To the extent that I can help by reinforcing the US’s relationship or supporting the soldiers or contributing our little part wherever the needs are, we are there. I say ‘we’ because it’s a feeling shared by my whole family and myself. My kids and my wife are all as committed as I am to the State of Israel and the well-being of the Jewish people.Is Israel still a state that makes you proud considering that it is no secret you have different political leanings than what this government has had over the last seven years?
Are you kidding? This is the miracle of the 20th and going into the 21st century. There are a lot of issues. I’m not suggesting that this is an issue-free country. No country is issue free.
Definitely Israel, which is surrounded by 330 million people who don’t like us too much, is not an issue-free country. With that said, I’m extremely proud of what has been achieved here, and this is at multiple levels. The fact that Israel is able to defend itself successfully, with all the issues that Israel has been facing over the years, terrorism and the like is remarkable.
The fact that there is the innovation that exists here is remarkable. The fact that Israel leads in scientific papers and discoveries in things like desalination and so on and so forth.
As far as my leaning goes, I don’t know if the two-state solution is the solution. I just don’t know of another mechanism in order to separate from the Palestinians. There is a need to separate from the Palestinians simply because of demography.
Now you can argue, whether there is a million, seven or two and a half million [Palestinians]. It doesn’t make a difference.
Eventually we are going to have to face the demography issue.
Eventually we are going to have to ask ourselves how do we keep this country Jewish and democratic. This is the overriding question – how you get there? Personally I don’t know because I recognize that the potential partner is not an easy one. With that said, I think it’s in Israel’s interest to find a way to separate from the Palestinians, it is a must.You know Hillary Clinton very well and have open conversations with her regarding her relations with Israel and how she feels about this country. Are you certain that she will take care of Israel that she will keep Israel secure? That she will have Israel’s interest at heart and that she won’t pressure Israel or twist its arm?
About Hillary, I can tell you my impression over the years is that she loves Israel. She genuinely, in her kishke, loves Israel. That added to the fact that she understands the common interests and the common values makes for a very, very compelling case for Israel not to worry at all about a second Clinton presidency. I do interact with her. I see her quite often. We do speak about issues that relate to the region and over and over again I truly feel reassured by her kishke-love for Israel and her understanding of the United States’ interest in maintaining that relationship and strengthening it.
She has an opponent in the run for the presidency who was very clear that – and I’m quoting right now – that he will remain neutral. You can’t remain neutral when you have an ally across the table. Then again, he came out with a statement that Israel should build in the settlements, but that shouldn’t surprise us because it’s a statement and 180 degree contradictory statement. That shouldn’t surprise us because it’s been consistent with him to say one thing one day, another thing another day, and sometimes in the same sentence. He says one thing, then he says the opposite, in the same sentence.Because of your relationship with Clinton, if she wins, will you play a role of some kind between America and Israel? Do you see yourself potentially playing an official role between Washington and Israel?
Forget about it, no [Israel Ambassador in the US] Ron Dermer, no [US Ambassador in Israel] Dan Shapiro, no nothing.
That’s as far as the official capacity. If either Israeli officials or American officials ask me to do something that I believe reinforces the US-Israel relationship, then of course.
I think that that relationship is vital for Israel and extremely important to the United States. It’s equally important. The United States is the United States and it’s a superpower but it’s an important relationship. Israel is the only democracy in the region and a staunch ally of the United States, and the United States is a staunch ally of Israel. I think it behooves both countries to keep it that way.What do you think about what is happening with the Democratic Party and its shift to the left? If Clinton loses, will Israel lose the Democratic Party?
We have two options as Americans who we are going to vote for. We can vote for Hillary, or we can vote for Trump. Some people will be critical of various positions Hillary takes but let’s spin this for a second and let’s talk about Trump. He is totally unpredictable. You don’t know which Trump will show up in the Oval Office on that morning and how he might react to something Israel does. It is totally unpredictable. I’ll quote Michael Bloomberg who said, ‘We need a sane person in the Oval Office.’ I don’t know Trump, I only know what I watch on TV. He’s a pretty funny guy, by the way. He’s kind of entertaining. I think he has a great career as a stand-up comedian.I want to talk to for a moment about the American-Jewish community. Can Israel do anything to stem the tide of assimilation, intermarriage and BDS?
The government is doing certain things or at least I thought they were doing certain things, that are politically possible.
Certain other things are politically impossible. For example, 35% of American Jewry are Reform, 20% plus minus are Conservative. They are defined by members of a party in the government as Christians. That’s unhelpful to bring the Jews into the Israeli tent. I understand the political imperatives and the rigidity – or I should say lack of flexibility – that the government has in allowing Jews to be Jewish in the way they choose to be Jewish, rather than rejecting one third of the most important community.
Israel is officially rejecting 60% of American Jews and calling them Christians. Let’s not be surprised if they say, ‘I live in California. I live in New York. I’m a Reform Jew. I’m a Jew, I’m proud to be a Jew but if Israel rejects me, I’ll reject her back.’ The lack of tolerance towards those Jews who don’t think like some members of the government is a massive mistake.President Obama has been portrayed as anti-Israel, particularly here. Is that justified or not?
Any defense minister, any IDF chief of staff, any head of Military Intelligence will confirm to you that the level of cooperation at the military and intelligence level is unprecedented.
What people don’t realize is that over the last 24 years - meaning from president Clinton, Bush and Obama – the only president under whom there was never any anti-Israel resolution at the Security Council was under Obama.
Obama has vetoed the United States’ standing policy of defining the settlement as illegitimate. This has been United States’ policy and position since 1967. When the resolution was brought, which could have led to sanctions against Israel, he vetoed it. Think about it for a second. Just stop and think for a minute about the president vetoing his own policy to protect Israel and draw your conclusions..