Media Analysis

Trump and Biden battle over who’s more pro-Israel, with Adelson and Saban squaring off

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Donald Trump keeps trying to inject Israel into the presidential race, but indications are that he’s not making a big impact on voters: polling shows that his many actions in support of Israel have moved Jewish support to 30 percent from his 25 percent support in the 2016 election. But Biden still wins 67 percent which is pretty close to the usual Democratic mark.

In a campaign ad aimed at pro-Israel voters, including evangelicals, Trump trumpeted the peace deals he cut at the White House last week, saying they were the first deals in “decades.” And Trump repeatedly mentioned Israel during his Rosh Hashana call last week to Jewish leaders.

“We really appreciate you, we love your country also,” he told them, according to the JTA.

Trump called Jared Kushner, whose family are keen supporters of Israel, “an unbelievable leader for Israel,” and said Democrats put Israel at risk.

[I]f we don’t win, Israel is in big trouble… We’re in the Middle East because of Israel… This is really a time that’s very important in the life of Israel and the safety of Israel. And we will do a great job. If the other side gets in all bets are off. I think it’ll be a whole different story. I think it’ll be exactly the opposite.

(That’s the second time in a few days Trump said the U.S. is only in the Middle East because of Israel.)

The group “Democratic Majority for Israel” said Trump is trafficking in an antisemitic trope of dual loyalty used to persecute Jews for centuries. And he’s misrepresenting Biden’s record on Israel. Look at all Biden has done to arm Israel:

Equally absurd is Trump’s suggestion that “Israel is in big trouble” if Democrats win in November. Thanks in large part to @JoeBiden‘s leadership, Israel now has the Iron Dome, its Qualitative Military Edge [QME], & the 10-year MOU, the largest US-Israel security agreement ever.

Biden surrogate Dan Shapiro says:

“[Trump’s] been trying every day for four years to turn Israel into a wedge issue with American Jewish voters, and he can’t even move it out of the margin of error.”

Nathan Hersh, an American-Israeli writer, says those older Florida Jews are different.

[H]e only has to win over Jewish voters in Florida. Combined with Repub efforts to cast young House Democrats as antisemitic, this effort may have an impact. (And the normalization agreements are likely to continue, staggered, in advance of the election.)

Biden’s Israel lobbyists say he is the most pro-Israel nominee ever. But if Trump can get to 35 percent of the Jews in Florida, he could take the state, argues the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The Republican Jewish Coalition is posting stories that as VP Joe Biden lobbied Ukraine to vote against Israel in the UN Security Council in 2016, the famous resolution condemning Israeli settlements as a “flagrant violation” of international law. The Obama administration abstained on that resolution, allowing it to pass 14-0, even as Trump’s administration-in-waiting lobbied to defeat the resolution, which Kushner called a “disaster.”

Not just voters are at stake. The RJC is funded in part by Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who have already given $50 million to Republican causes and are reportedly committing as much as $50 million to the Republican cause in the final stretch. The Adelson money helps explain why the Trump administration is acting bellicose toward the Iranians. Sheldon Adelson called on Obama to nuke Iran.

Meantime, Haim Saban, an ardent pro-Israel megadonor on the Democratic side, is all-in for Biden, because he trusts Biden on Israel. CNBC:

Saban… said he and his wife [Cheryl] are backing Biden in part because of his track record on supporting Israel and its alliance with the United States. Saban, an Israeli-American, said he also sides with Biden’s support of a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians. 

Saban can raise a lot of money– surely including many Israel supporters:

The Sabans, along with California Rep. Adam Schiff, hosted a virtual fundraiser earlier this month for Biden, with tickets at $500,000. The event raised $4.5 million.

Last year in the New York Times Magazine, Nathan Thrall reported that donor concerns — in Hillary Clinton’s behalf– caused the Obama administration to defer that 2016 U.N. resolution on settlements till after the election:

[A] former member of the Obama White House, who asked not to be named, fearing professional retaliation, said that concerns about donors among Democrats dominated not just “what was done but what was not done, and what was not even contemplated.” …

“There is a reason the U.N. vote did not come up before the election in November,” the former official said. “Was it because you were going to lose voters to Donald Trump? No. It was because you were going to have skittish donors. That, and the fact that we didn’t want Clinton to face pressure to condemn the resolution or be damaged by having to defend it.” What worries establishment Democrats, the former official added, is that the partisan divide over Israel will concretize — with Republicans defined as pro-Israel, Democrats defined as anti-Israel — and that the party coffers will empty. Joel Rubin, a deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs in the Obama administration, former political director at J Street and a founding board member of the centrist Jewish Democratic Council of America, agreed: “The fight over Israel used to be about voters. It’s more about donors now.”

The Times echoed what we have reported before, that the scale of big Jewish donors to the Democratic Party is “gigantic” and “shocking,” and it makes Dems leery to touch the Israel question, on the — sadly practical — assumption that 95 percent of Jews support Israel.

Of the dozens of personal checks greater than $500,000 made out to the largest PAC for Democrats in 2018, the Senate Majority PAC, around three-fourths were written by Jewish donors….

According to Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national-security adviser and one of Obama’s closest confidants, several members of the Obama administration wanted to adopt a more assertive policy toward Israel but felt that their hands were tied. “The Washington view of Israel-Palestine is still shaped by the donor class,” Rhodes… told me… “The donor class is profoundly to the right of where the activists are, and frankly, where the majority of the Jewish community is.” Peter Joseph, an emeritus chairman of the center-left Israel Policy Forum, told me that the views of major Democratic Jewish donors could act as a check on the leftward pull by progressive voters who are strongly critical of Israel: “I can’t imagine that mainstream Democratic Jewish donors are going to be happy about any Democratic Party that is moving in that direction.”

This explains why Biden crushed any reference to occupation even settlements as such in the Democratic platform this summer.

It explains why Democratic Congresswoman Elaine Luria, fighting for her political life in a swing district in Northern Virginia, was at the White House for the signing of the deals last week– a case of a Democrat campaigning on Trump’s coattails.

Some Dems are running to Trump’s right on Israel. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, fighting for reelection in a swing district in Michigan, repeatedly criticized the UAE deal as “downright negligent” regarding Israeli security in a post on Medium last week:

But reports that the United States committed to selling F-35s, our most advanced fighter jet, to the UAE to seal this deal, concern me. Reports that the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu made this deal without security experts on both sides reviewing the details together feels downright negligent, and definitely breaks with how these sales have been handled in past decades.

Slotkin threatened to try to block the deal in Congress. She touted her experience as a Defense Department official under Obama, saying she was in regular touch with the Israelis on security issues, including guaranteeing their military edge over other countries (QME). Notice the close identification with Israel:

Unlike in the U.S., a single, significant strike on a country approximately the size of New Jersey could be catastrophic for the country, so they handle their security very differently than we do.

This is what makes news of the sale of the F-35 difficult to understand.

Republicans are also keen to show their pro-Israel credentials. Here’s Nikki Haley last week, praising Trump’s “unapologetic support for the Jewish state” — and that he “bypassed” Palestinians with the deals. And Mike Pompeo has of course been doing everything he can to show his pro-Israel bona fides, including a convention speech last month from Jerusalem.

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Re the photo above:

Ah, yes, hand in hand, at the White House, the wives of two monsters stroll side by side.

Adelson and Saban are “squaring off” like two World Wide Wrestling performers.