Right Wing Gins Up False Controversy That Wealthy Donor Will No Longer Give To Obama Over Israel Policy

President Obama was perhaps not specific enough when he told an audience at the State Department last Thursday, as part of his big speech on the Arab Spring, “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” With more time to focus on just what “mutually agreed swaps” meant at AIPAC’s annual summit, Obama readily offered details. But that didn’t stop legions of Israel’s right-wing supporters from launching attacks on Obama that mischaracterized his position (which incidentally lined up with his two predecessors in office).

But the latest salvo from neoconservatives on this front is perhaps the most factually challenged. At the neocon flagship magazine Commentary, writer Alana Goodman picked up on an interview given by Israeli-American businessman and high-profile Democratic Party donor Haim Saban. Saban told CNBC that he wasn’t planning on donating to Obama’s re-election campaign. Under the headline “Key Jewish Donor Breaks with Obama,” Goodman seized on the opportunity to show a potential weakness among Jewish supporters of Democrats:

There have been reports that Obama is losing Jewish support after his clash with Prime Minister Netanyahu last week, but this development is the most significant so far. If a key donor like Saban has decided to break with the president, then there are likely others who will follow suit.

The only problem with this analysis is that Saban is not breaking with Obama at all. As detailed in Connie Bruck’s 2010 profile of Saban in the New Yorker, the California-based billionaire never got on board with Obama in the first place. But the New Yorker article is long, so an easier way to fact-check the claim would have been to simply pump Saban’s name into any of the many databases that track financial donations. In the 2008 presidential cycle, Saban didn’t donate any money to Obama.


Nonetheless, Goodman went on to quote former AIPAC official and director of a neoconservative think tank Steve Rosen — who recently dodged questions about whether using 1967 lines as a basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations had been U.S. policy “for years” — to back up her misleading implication that Saban’s comments are “significant”.

Neocons, who are mostly though not exclusively Jewish, have long sought to explain why, unlike them, most American Jews are liberals, seeking to use Israel as a partisan wedge issue to peel off Democrats’ Jewish support. Seventy-eight percent of American Jews voted for Obama in 2008 despite a whisper campaign to paint him as anti-Israel.

The absence of any evidence to back up Goodman’s claim, however, didn’t stop other media from picking up the assertion. The right wing New York Post, with the headline “Jews may actually close their wallets to Obama”, described wide-reaching implications of the fictitious story of “Saban’s choice to cut off Obama.” And the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot wrote, under the headline “Haim Saban: No More Donations To Obama”, that Saban “hinted that he will not continue to donate (to Obama) in 2012.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition’s twitter feed has also been going nuts all day, pushing the story and playing up its significance. Ron Kampeas, one of the best reporters in Washington’s Jewish journalism scene, pushed back in a reply: “I know you want to run with it, but it’s time to give it up.”

To their credit, all the outlets noted that Saban explicitly said that he expects to continue making robust donations to Democratic election committees and other Democratic candidates. But this further evidence contradicting any shift still leaves the basic question unanswered: Where is the “break” with Obama? (HT: @lrozen)