The Israeli American Council, a right-wing Israel advocacy organization, kicked off its first ever national conference in Washington, DC this weekend.
Big name speakers included Republican hot shots like former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney as well as hawkish neoconservative warmonger Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. As was predicted, the mostly rightwing speakers capitalized on the event, using it as an opportunity to mock Obama, brag about the GOP’s midterm victory and pander to the right wing of the Israel lobby.
The most illuminating spectacle of the conference appears to have been the highly anticipated public conversation between Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and Hollywood billionaire Haim Saban.
On the surface the pair could be easily mistaken as ideological rivals.
Conversely, Saban is a top donor to the Democratic Party, earning favors and groveling from Obama. In 2002, Saban doled out $7 million to the Democratic National Committee’s construction of the party’s headquarters. It was believed to be the largest single donation in Democratic Party history up to that time.
But when it comes to Israel they share a hawkish obsession with maintaining the state’s settler colonial regime, making the elderly power duo practically indistinguishable.
And they make no secret of their motives.
Saban, who made his fortune building the Power Rangers empire, freely admits that his number one priority is to influence US foreign policy in Israel’s favor through a three-pronged approach that entails donating to political parties, establishing think tanks and controlling media outlets.
“I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel,” he once told The New York Times.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed explaining his transformation from a Democrat to a Republican, Adelson revealed that the main driver was greater Republican sympathy for Israel.
Having expressed regret for serving in the US military instead of the Israeli army, Adelson has said he hopes to see his son “be a sniper for the IDF,” referring to the Israeli military. Adelson’s sectarian zealotry is matched only by his deep-seated hatred for Palestinians, who he routinely labels an invented people.
Meanwhile, Adelson donates more than $30 million annually to Birthright Israel, a program that sends young American Jews on a free ten-day trip to Israel in an attempt to radicalize them into immigrating to bolster the Jewish majority and participate in the dispossesion and ethnic cleansing of the land’s indigenous inhabitants.
Extremists with power
I had hoped to attend the Adelson-Saban event but was denied entry to the conference even though I applied for and was granted press access beforehand. The woman at the registration desk insisted my name wasn’t on the press list and refused to budge even after I pulled up my confirmation email from the Israeli American Council’s press contact.
However, the live tweets from the event candidly show the lust for extremism and violence espoused by the influential speakers.
Speaking about a potential US nuclear deal with Iran, Saban, who is prepared to contribute “as much as needed” to get Hillary Clinton elected president in 2016, told the crowd: “If the government of Israel comes to the conclusion that the deal signed [with Iran] puts Israel’s security at risk, I would bomb the living daylights out of these sons of bitches.”
The men then moved on to spewing anti-Palestinian bigotry:
Just say no to democracy
The conversation eventually shifted to the “demographic threat” posed by six million Palestinians between the river and the sea, an ironic number given the subject matter.
Saban stressed that a two-state solution is necessary for “securing the future of a democratic Israel.” Adelson fired back, saying “You are committing demographic suicide,” a reference to dangerously racist anxieties that Palestinians could soon outnumber the Jewish majority because they have a higher birth rate. “Israel can no longer live if you say we want to live as a democracy,” argued Adelson.
According to Haaretz’s summary of the event, Adelson invoked the Torah to justify his vision for an undemocratic Israel walled off from its neighbors (a vision that closely resembles the reality on the ground, though few will admit it):
Adelson also said Israel would not be able to survive as a democracy: “So Israel won’t be a democratic state, so what?” he asked Saban, adding that democracy, after all, is not mentioned in the Torah, and recommended that the country build a “big wall” to protect itself, saying, “I would put up a big wall around my property.”
He then went on to expel more anti-Palestinian hate:
I couldn’t help myself:
Next the men complained about the media’s mythical anti-Israel and left-wing bias:
Even the New York Times, which bends reality to whitewash Israel’s crimes, is not sufficiently pro-Israel for this crowd, so the two joked about buying it and The Washington Post, eliciting cheers from the audience.
“Why don’t you and I go after the New York Times?” asked Adelson, adding, “There’s only one way to fight it. Money.”
At one point Saban casually admitted to issuing threats to stifle reporting that makes Israel look bad, saying of the Los Angeles Times, “I meet with the editors, I write them letters, I threaten them.”
The two billionaires revealed upcoming plans to suppress the increasingly popular Palestinian-led call for boycott, divest and sanctions against Israel, a movement known in shorthand as BDS, until it complies with international law.
It remains to be seen how Adelson and Saban plan to go after the BDS movement, but Israeli American Council conference organizers were nervous enough about the rising popularity of the tactic to devote two panels to strategizing against it.
Warning that BDS is spreading from college campuses “into the corporate and government spheres,” one of the panels set out to explore ways for Israeli Americans to “leverage our unique identity” to “stop this movement in its tracks.”
A second anti-BDS panel aimed to conflate student-led BDS organizations and designated terrorist groups. “Israel faces existential threats from terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East,” declared the program’s description of the panel, which sought to answer the question, “Is the BDS movement on US campuses related to these threats?”
One of the panelists to help answer this absurd question was Adam Milstein, a rightwing philanthropist and unabashed Islamophobe who is no stranger to using his power to influence campus politics.
Milstein was recently exposed for donating money to a student government candidate at the University of California in exchange for the student’s loyalty to Israel and a commitment to fight measures to divest student funds from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
And the Milstein Foundation, Milstein’s philanthropic front, underwrites the entire budget of the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange for California university students. The program sends student leaders on free propaganda trips to Israel to recruit their support for Zionism and turn them against BDS.
Another anti-BDS panelist was Michael Dickson, the Israel Director of StandWithUs, a rightwing Zionist group that works closely with the Israeli government to monitor and suppress Palestine solidarity efforts in the United States, often through smear campaigns.
This matrix of rightwing hate groups is the future of Israel advocacy, thanks to the full backing of Adelson and Saban, the same hawkish sectarian extremists who wield enormous power and influence over the US political process.
Moderator and Israeli American Council national chairman Shawn Evenhaim ended the conversation by telling the two patrons of America’s political duopoly: “After the election in 2016, one of you will get me a private tour of the White House.”
In other words, regardless of which US party wins or loses, the State of Israel comes out on top.