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Haim Saban’s problem with President Obama

 It comes toward the end this long New Yorker profile, which otherwise focuses on how Haim Saban built up his entertainment empire. Saban, remember, was an avid backer of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s candidacy:

According to Saban, in June, 2008, after the primary battles finally ended, Barack Obama called and asked for his help. “I said to him, Let me coördinate a meeting between you and some of the people who supported Hillary through me. We have a few things we need to clarify.”

 

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.”

 

Saban offered to fly his group of Hillary supporters to meet with Obama anywhere in the country, but he was told that it couldn’t be arranged. “Haim understands message—Obama didn’t have time for him,” a close adviser said. “After that, he met with McCain. It went that far. But, ultimately, he felt he could not abandon the Democratic Party, even though he did not like its candidate.”

 

He has not spoken with Obama since he became President, Saban said, “because he has no need to speak to me—or, at least, he thinks he has no need to.” He has refused on two occasions to co-chair fund-raising dinners for the President.

 

Saban called Hillary’s defeat “my biggest loss—and not only mine. I’ll leave it at that.”

Saban remains a Democrat, remains very loyal to the Clintons, and was key to making sure she got a polite-to-warm at the AIPAC policy conference in March. Still, he flirted with McCain after his Obama frustrations, but came back to the Dems.

One nuance that consistently gets missed when it comes to Saban-Israel profiles. Much is made of his oft repeated credo, that he does it all to secure Israel — gets involved in politics, buys media, etc.

But what comes through in this story is that he is committed to protecting Israel through investing in the two-state solution. It’s not a strictly Israel, right-or-wrong approach:

The crisis in U.S.-Israel relations that followed Biden’s trip, when Israel announced its construction plans in Eas Jerusalem, seems only to have hardened Saban’s view of Obama. “I don’t think Haim feels particularly positive about Bibi’s performance,” Saban’s close adviser said. “But he certainly isn’t happy about Obama’s.” “I’m hoping that the White House’s brilliance will surprise us all,” Saban told me. “But I believe in my heart of hearts that the chances of success are much bigger if they work with Israel rather than against it.” Saban pointed out that, in the late nineties, President Clinton had pushed Netanyahu very hard, but behind closed doors. “Bill Clinton somehow managed to be revered and adored by both the Palestinians and the Israelis,” he said. “Obama has managed to be looked at suspiciously by both. It’s not too late to fix that.”

 

He pointed to news reports that the Obama Administration is considering presenting a peace plan. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that both Netanyahu and Abbas were to sign it, he continued, Netanyahu might still have to bring it to a referendum for approval. “Any deal that is pushed by the U.S. with Obama at a nine-per-cent approval rating in Israel, at the moment, will not go through,” he said. Last August, when Saban was in Washington, he met with both Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emanuel, and he argued that Obama should travel to Israel to speak to the Israeli people. That has been his continuing message. “I told friends of mine in the White House, ‘He goes to Saudi Arabia, he goes to Cairo, he doesn’t even make a stop in Jerusalem?’ If he thinks that having a Seder at the White House is going to mitigate that—no, it’s not.”

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