When Donald Trump tore up the Iran deal earlier this year, it was widely believed that he had deferred to his billionaire donors Sheldon Adelson, Bernard Marcus, and Paul Singer. Trump especially needs Singer and Adelson, who have given generously to the Republican Party, so as to maintain his political firewall against getting impeached.
Paul Singer started out as a Trump opponent. Back in 2015 he supported Marco Rubio, as a foreign policy hawk, and even funded opposition research that turned into the famous Steele dossier on Trump’s Russia connections. But he switched over to Trump in the end. The hedge fund manager rarely opens his mouth, but it’s a safe bet that he cut a deal with Trump on Israel. As CNN put it in 2015:
Singer, 71, is perhaps the [Republican] party’s most prodigious fundraiser, and his giving has been motivated primarily by two causes: protection of Israel and other Jewish causes, and support for the gay rights movement — a position that puts him at odds with many other leading players in the Republican Party.
Singer has funded a lot of neoconservative outfits, notably the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Israel Project, which have argued ardently for undoing the Iran deal.
So this week The New Yorker runs a major profile of Singer by business correspondent Sheelah Kolhatkar, and… Israel is barely mentioned. The word neoconservative, which defines the ideology of Singer’s many foreign policy beneficiaries — support for regime change in the Middle East so as to foster democracies, or chaos, that will improve Israel’s standing — doesn’t appear at all.
The piece reveals how much discomfort the mainstream press still has in even addressing the Israel lobby in our politics. Compare that to The New Yorker’s endless coverage of the dastardly Koch brothers, even though Singer is in bed with Trump, and the Kochs have turned against Trump on tariffs and foreign policy.
In fairness, Kolhatkar’s business in “Doomsday Investor” is telling how Paul Singer took down Athenahealth ceo Jonathan Bush so as to maximize the share price of a company he’d bought a large stake in. The investor comes off as vicious, mean, and underhanded. Kolhatkar does that story well.
But Kolhatkar also tells a political story. Singer is a “powerful influence” on Trump, and a man who “in politics, as in business… is intent on doing whatever it takes to win…” She describes Singer’s “sophisticated” political activities on the right. He cares about two matters, she reports:
Mike Lofgren, a longtime Republican congressional staffer who’s now a critic of the Party, told me that Singer’s conservative politics can be simplified to two issues. “Taxes and regulations, on the one hand,” he said. “And Israel on the other.”
But that’s it. Only one more reference to Israel, in a passage saying that along with Adelson, Singer “reportedly backed the push to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.” There’s a lot more than that about Singer’s support for gay rights.
Paul Singer is notoriously opaque; he doesn’t give speeches or interviews, as Sheldon Adelson does, about how much he loves Israel. But the record of his “sophisticated” engagement is very clear.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies has been the leading thinktank pushing for the destruction of the Iran deal, and clearly has access to the Trump administration. Trump just appointed a senior intelligence aide who worked at FDD. Adelson supports FDD; and so does Singer, per Eli Clifton:
Singer contributed at least $3.6 million to FDD by the end of 2011, making him the group’s second biggest donor after Marcus at the time.
Earlier this year in the New York Times, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson says FDD is pushing war against Iran on Trump the same way we got war with Iraq:
Today, the analysts claiming close ties between Al Qaeda and Iran come from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which vehemently opposes the Iran nuclear deal and unabashedly calls for regime change in Iran…
More than ever the Foundation for Defense of Democracies seems like the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans that pushed falsehoods in support of waging war with Iraq.
But not a word about FDD in The New Yorker.
Nor any description of Singer’s broad neoconservative portfolio. From Rightweb:
Singer is deeply involved in a network of right-wing, “pro-Israel” organizations. He serves on the boards of Commentary magazine, the Republican Jewish Coalition, and the Manhattan Institute, where he chairs the board of trustees. He is a former board member of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, has funded neoconservative research groups like the Middle East Media Research Institute and the Center for Security Policy… He was also connected to the pro-Iraq War advocacy group Freedom’s Watch....
According to tax filings, Singer’s foundation has generously donated to the American Enterprise Institute, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Institute for the Study of War, the Claremont Institute, The Israel Project, and the Philanthropy Roundtable…
Just yesterday the Israel Project, Singer’s pet project, celebrated Trump’s defunding of the UN Human Rights Council as an anti-Israel body. Again, it sure looks like Trump and Singer cut a deal on Israel…
Kolhatkar also has nothing to say about Singer’s sponsorship of the Iraq war. Singer did so on an ideological basis, per the New York Times:
As for the war in Iraq, [Singer] said, “America finds itself at an early stage of a drawn-out existential struggle with radical strains of pan-national Islamists.”
Singer beneficiaries, the American Enterprise Institute and JINSA, or the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, had their hands all over the Iraq war. When Colin Powell was asked to explain why the Iraq war happened, he told the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung it was “the JINSA crowd”‘s neoconservative ideological influence over George W. Bush.
Forget about Palestine, focus on Iraq, JINSA said. From DeYoung’s biography of Powell:
“Bush came to subscribe to the belief long espoused by neoconservatives that Baghdad was a first and necessary stop on the road to peace in Jerusalem….Several countries were candidates for regime change: Syria, Lybia, even Iran…. “I think the JINSA crowd had a lot to say about it,” Powell later reflected on the White House’s attitude toward the peace process. Bush “saw [Ariel] Sharon fighting terrorism, he saw bombs going off in Israel. That affected him deeply. Israel was a democracy! Freedom! And he saw all of these Arab states that were not democracies.”
Lastly, while Kolhatkar’s article goes on at some length about Singer’s successful efforts to turn up the screws on Argentina in international courts because he was an investor in Argentinian debt, it says nothing about his ideological interest in Argentina: pro-Israel groups were also trying to pressure Argentina because of former President Cristina Kirchner’s protection of Iranians implicated in the 1993 bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires. “Millions of dollars have flowed from Singer’s pockets to the various neoconservative groups whose advocacy of confrontation with Iran has extended to attacking Argentina, in particular over its ties to the Islamic Republic,” Jim Lobe and Charles Davis reported. FDD was involved there too. Rightweb writes: “The Singer-backed Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has issued numerous reports accusing Argentina of aiding an Iranian cover-up of Hezbollah’s purported role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.”
But even as Kolhatkar moralizes on the dangers to society of Singer’s activist investment, she refuses to anatomize the neoconservative ideology, let alone describe the role of big Israel lobby donors in shaping foreign policy. I noticed the same inhibition at J Street this year. Neoconservative has become the Jewish n-word, at least since Paul Wolfowitz quipped that it means Jewish. But the word is important because it names an actual ideology that animated and still animates a lot of foreign policy thinking: a militant American response to Middle East countries, and support for Israel’s expansionism.
Part of Kolhatkar’s inhibition surely reflects the fear that talking about Jewish donors will spur anti-Semitism. But the more important factor is that in today’s foreign policy establishment, neocons and liberal interventionists are actively partnered, in good measure through the solvent of Israel; and the New Yorker is a member in good standing of that establishment, having pushed the Iraq war, notably with Jeffrey Goldberg’s hollow reporting on Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and David Remnick’s editorial, presenting Saddam as a nuclear Saladin and offering “the myriad reasons that an aggressive policy toward Iraq now is the least bad of our alternatives.”
Holding Paul Singer accountable for grievous mistakes would mean holding a lot of our good friends accountable, too.