Arthur Finkelstein, Powerhouse Political Strategist, Dies at 72

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Arthur Finkelstein in Tel Aviv in 2006
Arthur Finkelstein in Tel Aviv in 2006Credit: Moti Milrod

 Arthur Finkelstein, the prominent political strategist who consulted an array of right-wing candidates across the world - from U.S. Republicans to Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu - died over the weekend at the age of 72 from lung cancer.

Finkelstein, a Jewish-American, was born in New York in 1945. Throughout his career he made a name for himself as a genius and was often regarded as a "magician" who could predict election outcomes.

In the 1970s and 1980s he worked with Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

In Israel, Finkelstein became involved in Netanyahu's successful 1996 campaign against Shimon Peres. Finkelstein coined the phrase "Peres will divide Jerusalem." A decade later, he advised Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Leiberman in his election campaign, and contributed to the party's strengthening.

On Saturday, Lieberman said that Finkelstein was a great supporter of Israel. He also remembered opposing Finkelstein's slogan, "Peres will divide Jerusalem," in the 1996 campaign. "I was very against that proposal," Lieberman said, "but as always it turned out Arthur was right, and the decisions he made then had a significant part in the victory of Netanyahu and Likud." 

In 1999 Finkelstein advised the Likud Party, headed by Netanyahu, who lost the election to Ehud Barak. He worked for Ariel Sharon's campaign in 2001, advised Likud lawmaker Silvan Shalom in 2003, and worked with Shaul Mofaz in the Kadima party primaries in 2008.

In 2012 Finkelstein mistakenly assumed Mitt Romney would defeat Barack Obama in the 2012 election. The 2013 Israeli election proved him wrong once again: He had recommended the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu run on the same ticket, but the move cost Likud more than a quarter of its representatives in the Knesset. 

Left-wing lawmakers often criticized Finkelstein for his attacks on his clients' opponents. In 1997, Meretz lawmaker Yossi Sarid said: "'Terrible Arthur' usually serves people in the U.S. who have conservative, nationalist and racist views, who run aggressive and insulting campaigns; it's too bad that morally, one can't declare Finkelstein a persona-non-grata in Israel."

Others called Finkelstein a hypocrite for advising conservatives who opposed same-sex marriage, while he himself was gay, living with his partner and raising two adopted children. Finkelstein responded, saying that he separates his private life from his business life. 

From the archive: Understanding the Enigma of Arthur Finkelstein, Unseen Power Broker