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Biden's Gaza policy risks re-election but pleases his wealthiest donors

Biden's Gaza policy risks re-election but pleases his wealthiest donors

Courting rich pro-Israel supporters at the expense of a significant swath of voters may cost the president in November

Reporting | Washington Politics

A New York Times poll released this week found that 13% of voters defecting from President Joe Biden, those who voted for him in 2020 but will not do so in November, cite his handling of foreign policy and Israel’s war in Gaza as the reason for pulling their support. But an investigation by Responsible Statecraft finds that those same policies likely benefit the president’s re-election campaign in a different way: his biggest funders happen to support them.

A review of campaign contributions, philanthropy, and public statements reveals that over one third of the president’s top tier funders — those giving in excess of $900,000 to the Biden Victory Fund — appear to see little nuance in the conflict and show overwhelming sympathy for Israel, at times verging into outright hostility to Palestinians and anti-Muslim bigotry.

That’s in sharp contrast with 13% of defecting 2020 Biden voters who say they won’t vote for the president’s reelection - a group that could tip the scales this November toward Donald Trump - only 17% of whom sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians.

“I think many Victory Fund members are in a bubble and out of touch with political reality but they also seem indifferent to the suffering of over 1 million children in Gaza whose lives are treated by Netanyahu and Biden as worth far less than those of Israeli children,” said Amed Khan, a former Victory Fund donor who resigned in November over Biden’s handling of the war. “The American people see these policies as morally repugnant.”

Thus, Biden likely isn’t hearing those voices opposing Israel’s brutal war in Gaza at fundraisers with his top donors.

Take for example, billionaire Haim Saban, who contributed $929,599 to the Victory Fund. Saban also serves on the board of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and contributed $1 million to the United Democracy Project, the independent expenditure arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, that runs ads supporting pro-Israel candidates and ads criticizing candidates deemed insufficiently supportive of Israel.

Last week, in an email to Biden apparently forwarded by an intermediary, Saban slammed the president’s decision to hold a weapons shipment to Israel, warning, “Let’s not forget that there are more Jewish voters, who care about Israel, than Muslims [sic] voters that care about Hamas,” suggesting that putting conditions on U.S. weapons transfers to Israel is akin to supporting Hamas.

Saban made his priorities clear in a 2004 New York Times interview, saying, "I'm a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”

Saban’s wife, Cheryl Saban, also donated $929,600 to the Victory Fund, gave $2.18 million to Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in 2022 (a gift made alongside her husband), and cheered on pro-Israel provocateur Ben Shapiro’s statement that, “If Israel put down its guns tomorrow there would be a second holocaust. If the Palestinians put down their arms tomorrow there would be a Palestinian state.” “Bravo,” said Cheryl Saban last November.

Mobile gaming pioneer Mark Pincus offered even more blunt statements. Pincus, who contributed $929,600 to the Victory Fund, is outspoken on Israel on social media.

“Why do we only see pro palestinians [sic] in acts of violence? Why has this become an accepted form of protest,” he asked in a March 8 post on X.

“[T]heres [sic] no mention by nyt of baby beheading or Biden speech about it. [B]ut continued coverage of destruction in Gaza and Israeli military failures. [T]hey should rename as ‘the new hamas times,’” wrote Pincus in an October 11 post, referencing the claim, walked back by the White House on October 12 that Biden had seen photographic evidence of babies beheaded by Hamas on October 7.

LinkedIn co-founder and venture capitalist Reid Hoffman also has a history of praising elite IDF units. At the 2022 Aspen Security Forum, Hoffman said the U.S. needed a “digital ROTC” and used the Israeli 8200 signal intelligence unit as an example of what was necessary. (As it turned out, the 8200 unit was not active on October 7 because it doesn’t operate on nights and weekends.)

Hoffman currently funds a “1-year full scholarship executive excellence program” that is “specially tailored for outstanding alumni of IDF Elite Units,” via the Hoffman Kofman Foundation.

Attorney and political pundit George Conway, who also contributed $929,600 to the Victory Fund, regularly posts pro-Israel commentary on X while expressing little concern for Palestinians and expresses skepticism about the organizing behind college protests against Israel’s actions.

Other donors were less vocal but their recent philanthropy and political giving suggests a strong pro-Israel bent in their foreign policy views.

Real estate and casino magante Neil Bluhm contributed $929,600 to the Victory Fund, $200,000 to the United Democracy Project, and $225,000 to the American Israel Education Foundation — the fundraising arms of AIPAC that arranges for congressional junkets to Israel, among other activities — via his family’s charitable foundation in 2022.

Entertainment and sports mogul Casey Wasserman donated $929,600 to the Victory Fund and $25,000 in 2022 to Israel Emergency Alliance (also known as Stand With Us), a pro-Israel group that works to oppose boycotts against Israel. Stand With Us, earlier this month in a press release, called for the resignation of Northwestern University president Michael Schill after he “announced a set of concessions to [student encampment protester] organizers Monday that included pledging to implement full-ride scholarships for Palestinian students and faculty positions for Palestinian academics.”

Pete Lowy, son of Australian-Israeli billionaire Frank Lowy, contributed $929,600 to the Victory Fund and maintains close ties to hawkish pro-Israel groups.

“Retail industry tycoon Peter Lowy inspired and delighted over 100 IAC Supporters at a donor reception toasting Israel’s 70th Independence Day on Tuesday, April 24,” read a 2018 press release from the Israeli-American Council, a group that describes itself as “wholeheartedly support[ing] the State of Israel.”

And until 2020, Lowy served as a senior vice president at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Israel think tank formed by AIPAC.

Another Biden Victory Fund supporter, developer Eli Reinhard, who is listed as giving $1.84 million, also contributed $300,000 to WINEP and $50,000 to Friends of the IDF via his foundation in 2022.

In total, nine out of the 25 donors who gave more than $900,000 to the Biden Victory Fund had either contributed funds to staunchly pro-Israel groups or made statements that showed a strong pro-Israel bias. Other donors were largely silent on the Israel-Gaza war or, like film director Steven Spielberg, have responded to the conflict by denouncing both anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim views.

The New York Times warned that, “yearning for change and discontent over the economy and the war in Gaza among young, Black and Hispanic voters threaten to unravel the president’s Democratic coalition.” But Biden’s most important campaign funders appear to offer a very different coalition than those in the broader electorate: donors with a one-sided support for Israel even as it wages a brutal war in Gaza that’s incurring a steep political cost on Biden’s reelection effort.

The Sabans, Pincus, Hoffman, Conway, Bluhm, Wasserman, Lowy and Reinhard did not respond to requests for comment.

President Joe Biden and Democratic Party donor Haim Saban via Reuters and OogImages / Shutterstock.com

Reporting | Washington Politics
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