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  February 1, 2012

Israel and the American Elections

Max Blumenthal: A few major Jewish donors push candidates to support Netanyahu on Iran
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Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post,, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. His most recent book is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. His other book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller. Max is co-host of the podcast Modern Rebel.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington.

The 2012 elections are underway, and it's already a rather strange process. You have a multibillionaire casino owner from Las Vegas, Sheldon Adelson, who is a close friend of the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, who's financing the campaign of Republican Newt Gingrich, who's doing his best to ally with right-wing evangelicals in the Republican Party. All the while, the Obama administration is dealing with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and apparently Netanyahu has his gun sights set on Iran. And you have the former head of Mossad in Israel calling Netanyahu reckless [in] wanting to attack Iran. It's all very, very murky.

Now joining us to help us unravel all of this is Max Blumenthal. Max is a award-winning journalist, a bestselling author, whose articles have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, and many other major newspapers. And his recent book is Republican Gomorrah. Thanks very much for joining us, Max.


JAY: So start, I guess, with this weird convergence of Adelson, Gingrich, Netanyahu, all at the same time. Obama's dealing with this potential Israeli attack on Iran. And it's a weird American elections, and we're just getting started.

BLUMENTHAL: It's a dangerous American election that could accelerate the ongoing drive to war, the march to war. And, first of all, since you mentioned Sheldon Adelson, the background on Adelson and Gingrich is really interesting. Gingrich was not known as an extreme hawk on the issue of Israel-Palestine or Iraq or Iran. During the '90s he welcomed Yassir Arafat to Washington during the Oslo era. Gingrich had made statements that seemed sort of moderate about the peace process, until he met Sheldon Adelson, who he met through a mutual friend in Las Vegas who was helping Sheldon Adelson do a unionbusting effort at his casino.

JAY: Yeah, just for people who don't realize it, Las Vegas is one of the most unionized cities in America, with the exception of the Venetian, which is owned by Adelson.

BLUMENTHAL: Right. And this is—and Adelson managed to stop the unionization effort there through the help of George Harris, who is now a campaign finance cochair on Newt Gingrich's campaign. And that's the man who introduced them.

Newt Gingrich was driven out of Congress soon after that. He had led impeachment efforts against President Bill Clinton while he was sleeping with a paid staffer of his, a paid congressional staffer, who is now his third wife, and secretly—and doing it behind the back of his second wife. And he had, by the way, left his first wife on her hospital bed. And then he left his second wife after she—while she was recovering from an operation, and did so by telephone. So Gingrich was seen by the Christian right—who had propped him up, who had helped him take over Congress in 1994, take it from the Democrats—now as sort of a sleazebag, and he was replaced by a more extreme figure in Tom DeLay, an extreme Christian Zionist.

And so Gingrich went, sort of retreated into the woodwork of the neoconservative and right-wing, pseudo-intellectual hothouse in Washington—he took a position at the American Enterprise Institute, which is where sort of the idea for a war with Iraq was generated. And he started a think tank of his own with millions from Adelson. Adelson financed Gingrich's luxurious private travel as he went from one city to the next, building up over almost an entire decade his campaign infrastructure for his presidential run, which would be his last gasp in political life.

JAY: Adelson's known as not only a friend of Netanyahu, but a major funder of many Zionist organizations. He supports Likud. And he's been, apparently, quite a hawk on the issue of Israel attacking Iran. So you've got him paying for Gingrich, at the very least, to be a voice, a very militant voice in support of Israel, and particularly on the Iran issue. And you've got this weird connection with him and Netanyahu. And so talk a bit about Israel and Iran and what role this is going to be playing.

BLUMENTHAL: Gingrich was able to get this money after he declared in an interview with an obscure Jewish online publication, which was apparently a calculated event, that the Palestinians are an invented people. And Sheldon Adelson echoed this statement before a group of young American Jews with the Birthright Israel program, a program that Adelson funds. But Adelson is a big financier of Benjamin Netanyahu's political campaigns and his political empire. He funds think tanks in Israel that are supportive of Netanyahu, that provide him with advisers. He owns a newspaper in Israel called Israel HaYom, which is considered Netanyahu's house organ. It exists to basically support Netanyahu against the opposition. And so he's really, I think, out of anyone in the entire world, the greatest supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, and he's the link between Netanyahu and this political campaign.

Netanyahu is more immersed in the American political process, in the culture wars, and in the Republican primary than any foreign leader in recent modern history, and he's doing so because he wants regime change in two countries. The first country is Iran, the second country is the United States. He wants to replace Barack Obama with a Republican. He tried the same thing when he was prime minister in the 1990s against President Bill Clinton. He leaned on Gingrich. He leaned on people who are seeking to impeach President Clinton, using Israel as a partisan wedge issue the same way the Christian right uses abortion and gay marriage. And this campaign is the fulfillment of Netanyahu's strategy to use Israel, and now Iran, as a political tool to unseat Barack Obama. And Newt Gingrich is just one candidate who is assisting this effort. Mitt Romney is also happy to assist this effort, and he's surrounded himself with neoconservatives who have a seamless connection to Israel and to the Israeli military intelligence establishment and to Netanyahu's advisers.

JAY: Now, they're counting on that Jewish Americans are going to like all of this stuff. But how true is that, in the sense that there is a big section of the Jewish community in the United States which is not pro-Likud and is not pro-Republican? How does this—do you think is this going to play out amongst Jewish Americans?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, I mean, right now, tonight, the Florida Republican primary will be decided, and there is a considerable Jewish vote there. Jews do make up a sizable percentage of voters in Florida, and some of them are Republicans, and they're Republicans mainly because of the issue of Israel, so they're extremely hawkish on Israel issues and they may go for Gingrich.

But in general, in a general election, when it's a Democratic presidential candidate against a Republican, I don't believe there is a Jewish vote. It's kind of ridiculous when the term Jewish vote is used. Jews make up about 2 to 3 percent of the American population, and, you know, they might all vote. Many of them vote. They might be very political. But it's really about Jewish money. And it's sort of forbidden to say that, but a minority within the Jewish community, which is very liberal, play a disproportionate effect in politics through campaign finance.

One of them is Haim Saban. He got rich with this show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and now he has established an entire, you know, wing within the establishment, the major establishment think tank in Washington, Brookings Institute. He funded the construction of the Democratic National Committee's headquarters. He was the largest individual donor to President Bill Clinton and came forward to support Clinton's campaign during the impeachment crisis. He was the largest individual donor, I think, to President Barack Obama's campaign. And Haim Saban says he's also a donor to the Israeli army. Every year he gives millions of dollars to the Friends of the IDF. And Saban has said, I'm a single issue guy; my issue is Israel. He is funding the Democratic Party to make sure that the Democratic Party remains in the pro-Israel camp.

Then on the right you have Sheldon Adelson, who's not really a neocon. He's sort of just like the Jewish Donald Trump. He got into Israel after he broke up with his first wife. He had a divorce, and he decided that he wanted to meet Israeli women. And he's sort of hovercraft elite who can go around the world and pretty much get whatever he wants. So he went to Israel and met a woman who is extremely right-wing, became his wife, and she's pumping money into Gingrich's campaign. And now Adelson has said, according to Gingrich, that his life's mission is supporting Israel. And he's one of the key donors to the Republican Party, as well as to the Israel lobby.

You have other people, like Mel Sembler, who is a pro-Israel donor. Israel's his major cause. He's pumping money into Mitt Romney's super PAC. And, you know, while it's impossible to quantify how much pro-Israel Jewish money is going into political campaigns, an author named Stephen Pease, who has written a book that I find sort of disturbing that has anti-Semitic undertones about Jewish achievement, a book that was in—actually, sort of endorsed or praised by the neoconservative New York Times columnist David Brooks. Pease claims that 45 percent of individual political contributions in American campaigns are from Jewish donors. So this is really where the issue lies, and it's sort of a forbidden topic in the United States.

JAY: Right. So it's not about the broad opinion of Jewish Americans; it's about a very small elite of Jewish billionaires.

BLUMENTHAL: Absolutely. And their names are read off kind of on this scoreboard at each annual AIPAC conference. And I think this is an incredibly dangerous and troubling scenario, because they are making American foreign policy a domestic issue. And now, with Israel's push to war with Iran, they are—in the words of former AIPAC researcher Keith Weissman, they are advancing the war of the Jews—that's his words. So I think the danger of encouraging or fanning the flames of anti-Semitism is very real when an element in the United States is pushing the rest of the country to go to war for a foreign country. It's sort of a fulfillment of past anti-Semitic stereotypes. And I think Jews in the United States, most of whom oppose this war and oppose the neoconservative agenda, should be more aware of this.

JAY: Right. Thanks very much for joining us, Max.

BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me on.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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