That Haim Saban is one of the main candidates to buy Newsweek should not be surprising to those who read Connie Bruck’s fantastic profile of the Israeli-American media tycoon in last week’s New Yorker: She reports that Saban tried to buy Newsweek or Time a couple years ago. (Tablet Magazine’s Allison Hoffman profiled Saban’s wife, Cheryl, last year.)
But now that The Washington Post Company has put the venerable magazine on the auction block, it is closer to Saban’s grasp. And if Saban owned one of America’s two main newsweeklies, that would be significant political news.
For the great reveal of Bruck’s piece is that despite all the canny business deals that have turned Saban into a self-made multi-billionaire (credit, among other things, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers), “He is most proud of his role as political power broker.” And his political power-brokering has a focus: “I’m a one-issue guy,” he says, “and my issue is Israel.”
Or, as an Israeli television interviewer once told him, “You really are our rich uncle in America, and we can rely on you.”
Though a staunch Democrat (and massive Democratic contributor), he more specifically is a diehard backer (and close personal friend) of the Clintons. As a corollary, he has been unshy about expressing his displeasure with the Obama administration, particularly vis-à-vis its comparatively tough line on Israel. Even earlier this week, he said on Israeli television, “They are leftists, really left leftists, so far to the left there’s not much space left between them and the wall.”
You really should read the whole New Yorker profile. But, after the jump, some choice bits that help capture this important (and, maybe, soon-to-be even more important) man’s relationships with his two countries:
On the origins of his love for Israel:
Saban’s father had been a sales clerk in a small toy shop in Alexandria [Egypt]. One day, Saban says, he was doing his homework by an open window of the family’s apartment. An Egyptian soldier across the way suddenly pointed his gun at him, and called out, “You, Jew! You, Jew! Bam bam!” In 1956, after the Suez Crisis, the Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, effectively ordered Jews to leave the country.
On his role in the 2000 Camp David talks:
As Saban has said, “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.” When Bill Clinton was President and Ehud Barak was Israel’s Prime Minister, Saban, who was close to both men, says that occasionally he provided a back channel for communications. In July of 2000, shortly before the start of the Camp David negotiations, Israel’s planned two-hundred-and-fifty-million-dollar sale of an airborne radar system to China—furiously opposed by many at the Pentagon and in Congress—threatened to derail congressional support for a peace deal. Saban said, “I just called Ehud and told him, ‘In the middle of this peace thing, it’s impossible for Israel to do things that are perceived in the U.S. as against the interests of the U.S. I understand the financial aspect, I understand that it may not be really a security concern for the U.S.—it doesn’t matter. There’s a much bigger picture here, and you really should seriously consider.’ ” Barak suspended the sale. “How much impact my call had, I have no idea,” Saban added. During Camp David, he continued, “I was involved, but only on the periphery. If Barak could not say some things to Clinton to his face, he would ask me to convey a message, and vice versa.” At one point during the negotiations, Clinton, accompanied by his national-security adviser, Sandy Berger, had to go to Japan. “When they came back, I spoke to Sandy Berger, and gave him my two cents about dealing with issues. ‘Is that really super-important?’ ‘Well, why can’t Arafat give up on that?’ ” He laughed. “The usual!”
On Clinton and Obama:
“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’!”
… Saban called Hillary’s defeat “my biggest loss—and not only mine. I’ll leave it at that.”
… Saban said that the Administration “may want to consider the fact that their relationship with their Israeli wife is more valuable than their newfound relationship with their Arab mistresses.