Two years ago it was said that Israeli PM Netanyahu was resigned to Hillary Clinton being elected president, but when Trump won it was a “dream come true.” A story in the New York Times suggests that the Israeli right tried to influence the outcome for Trump.
Earlier this week the Times reported that back in 2016 Trump campaign officials reached out to an Israeli security firm over the possibility of creating fake online identities in order to sway the Republican nomination process and then the general election. The Israeli firm came up with proposals
to use social media manipulation and to gather intelligence to help defeat Republican primary race opponents and Hillary Clinton, according to interviews and copies of the proposals.
While “there is no evidence that the Trump campaign acted on the proposals,” The Times story said, it noted that the Israeli firm “is staffed by former Israeli intelligence operatives” and that the idea was first seeded with Trump aides by “George Birnbaum, a Republican consultant with close ties to current and former Israeli government officials” and a protege of the late rightwing guru Arthur Finkelstein, who helped Netanyahu come to power.
The Times did not say what Wikipedia does: that George Birnbaum was once Netanyahu’s chief of staff. Indeed, the Times story is silent on the Israeli government’s interest in manipulating the election. So is the rest of the liberal press. When MSNBC’s Joy Reid interviewed Times reporter Ronen Bergman (the man from AIPAC), she ignored the question of the Israeli government’s interest in the outcome of the election, while Rachel Maddow used the story to say, This is how Russia ultimately influenced the election. Though Ben Rhodes did say on MSNBC that the story suggests a “bread crumb trail” of Israelis, Saudis, and Emiratis all trying to influence our foreign policy, and that’s not a good thing.
If you look closely at that bread crumb trail, you see that Birnbaum has worked closely with Avigdor Lieberman, who has been a key part of the Netanyahu coalition.
Lieberman became Netanyahu’s Defense Minister during the time that the Times says Birnbaum was reaching out to the Trump campaign. The connection suggests that the Israeli right, including high government officials, took steps to try to help Donald Trump to win the election.
And demonstrably, the Israeli right’s rich American friends supported Trump as a better bet for Israel than Hillary Clinton; and when Trump got in, he executed policy after policy in Israel’s interest, notably killing the Iran Deal and moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, tolerating the growth of Israeli settlements, defunding UNRWA undercutting the U.N. program for Palestinian refugees as Israeli officials have been hoping to “trim its roster of Palestinian refugees” for a long time. And most recently, the Trump administration’s closing the Palestinian delegation’s office in Washington D.C.
Yes, Vladimir Putin has said that he wanted Trump elected, and surely took actions to help him. But Russia has reaped nothing like Israel’s harvest from Trump.
Let’s run back through the record of Trump’s Israel-supporting actions and the Americans and Israelis they’ve pleased.
In December 2016, as Trump prepared to enter the White House, his national security aide Mike Flynn and son-in-law Jared Kushner “called several officials of [the United Nations] Security Council member states in order to block or delay” a resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Flynn called on a Russian ambassador in the effort and later lied about the call, according to his guilty plea with the special prosecutor investigating Russian influence. (The Obama administration angered Israel by allowing that settlements resolution to pass, in one of its last foreign policy moves.)
In his first year in office, Trump announced that he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, reversing policy of three presidents before him, and a few months later he killed Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, the Iran deal, thereby defying his own top aides and leading Republicans.
Killing the Iran deal “may have been exactly what two of Trump’s biggest donors, Sheldon Adelson and Bernard Marcus, and what one of his biggest inaugural supporters, Paul Singer, paid for when they threw their financial weight behind Trump,” Eli Clifton wrote at the time.
In the 2016 cycle, Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam contributed $90 million to the Trump campaign and Republican congressional efforts. Adelson’s main issue is Israel. Adelson is a close ally of Netanyahu and publishes a rightwing newspaper in Israel that supports the premier. He opposes the peace process, once called on Obama to nuke Iran, and after the Iran Deal was signed, he and Netanyahu put a great deal of effort into undoing the deal.
After Trump killed the Iran deal, Adelson rewarded five Senators who had opposed the deal with big contributions– and also contributed to Senator Robert Menendez’s legal defense fund, even though Menendez is a Democrat. Because Menendez was one of four Democratic senators to buck Obama on the Iran deal.
Last February, Trump’s Justice Department dropped its case for corruption against Menendez. Menendez then resumed his role as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and went right back to being a mouthpiece for Israel. Clifton suggests that maybe the fix was in between Justice and Trump’s biggest donor: perhaps a “quid pro quo was reached between Adelson, Trump, and Menendez in which Menendez would back Adelson’s hawkish foreign policy positions in the Senate.”
Adelson offered to pay for the move of the embassy earlier this year, and days after Trump opened the new embassy in Jerusalem, in defiance of international law, it was reported that Adelson was giving $30 million to the Republican House superpac that is pushing to protect the Republican majority.
At his famous press conference with Putin in Helsinki– Trump repeatedly praised Israel and bragged of all he’d done for Israel.
We’ve worked with Israel long and hard for many years, many decades. I think we’ve never — never has anyone, any country been closer than we are. President Putin also is helping Israel. And we both spoke with Bibi Netanyahu, and they would like to do certain things with respect to Syria having to do with the safety of Israel. So in that respect, we absolutely would like to work in order to help Israel, and Israel will be working with us…..I think that working with Israel is a great thing, and creating safety for Israel is something that both President Putin and I would like to see very much.
As CNN commented acidly. “It wasn’t the security of American citizens, however, but rather those of Israel that the US President appeared to have on his mind.”
The next day, it was reported in Israel that Netanyahu had boasted to members of his rightwing political party that he had convinced Trump to exit the Iran deal.
“We convinced the US president [to exit the deal] and I had to stand up against the whole world and come out against this agreement… And we didn’t give up.”
In August Adelson and his wife poured another $25 million into the Republican effort to keep the Senate.
Today the Times reports that the Adelsons have put in another $25 million, bringing their total for this federal election cycle to over $100 million.
Of course, it’s not as if Democrats don’t experience the same pressure. Haim Saban is an Israel man all the way; he also contributed to Robert Menendez’s legal defense fund.
And of course he was a big supporter of Hillary Clinton in the last presidential campaign. In 2015, Clinton came out in support of Obama’s Iran deal, but as she prepared to go public, her campaign spent weeks trying to craft the proper cover for that support: a letter to Haim Saban expressing her opposition to BDS, or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel.
According to leaked emails, Clinton needed to assuage several large donors as she prepared to announce her support for the Iran deal. One campaign aide wrote, “[H]as she made a clear statement on Israel yet? I get this question from donors all the time. Does she need to state her principles on Israel before Iran? Or do both at the same time?” Another aide responded, “That’s basically the goal of the BDS letter.”
Clinton also received advice on BDS from Benjamin Netanyahu, according to those emails: “Israel must attack its attackers. The best defense is a good offense: ‘attack, attack, attack’”. She promised to meet with Netanyahu in her first month in office at the urging of a pro-Israel aide who had met with Netanyahu and said she needed to repair President Obama’s damage to the special relationship. She made a call to the pro-settlement Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein so as to distance herself from the Obama administration, resulting in a headline in the New York Times “Clinton Wants to Improve Ties to Israel.” And Haim Saban promptly thanked Clinton by citing other donors: “pls be aware that these articles will be mailed to thousands of people who are interested in the subject matter and who have been asking themselves ,,,,and me ,many times ‘Where is Hillary on this.’”
Saban may be to the left of Adelson, but the two teamed up against BDS. And last month Saban and Trump donor Paul Singer had a dinner in New York at the Pierre Hotel with Jewish leaders to meet with the Trump aides who are crafting the latest peace plan. It featured “U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, Jared Kushner, and Jason Greenblatt.”
Jared Kushner’s family funds illegal settlements in the West Bank and Kushner lobbied to kill the Security Council resolution condemning settlements. Now he’s crafting a peace plan.
One other stray fact. Back in 2008, Obama hired Hillary Clinton as secretary of state by reaching out to her through a leading Israel lobbyist. The New York Times:
Once elected, Obama seemed to understand that he needed someone to lend him credibility with the Israeli government and its American defenders, a tough friend of Israel who could muscle the country away from settlements and toward a peace agreement. An aide to Obama called Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, and asked him to call Hillary Clinton to see if she would be “agreeable” to being named secretary of state.
So that’s the pattern. Pro-Israel donors exert policy influence over presidential candidates. The presidential candidates respond.
The latest report in the Times is evidence that the right wing of the Israeli government tried to help out the Trump campaign, even as Sheldon Adelson was the campaign’s lead backer. The Israeli government was deeply pleased when Trump won, and overjoyed when he trashed the Iran deal and moved the embassy.
But the liberal press reports the latest evidence of an Israeli presence in the 2016 campaign as if it’s just some independent contractor.