WASHINGTON - Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban, one of the largest donors to the Democratic party, recently sent an email to six of the party's senators, in which he criticized them for signing a letter that called on the Trump administration to increase humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Saban accused the Senators of blindly following the lead of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on the issue.
Saban's letter, which was first published by The Intercept on Wednesday, was sent out this week, more than a month after 13 Democratic Senators wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to increase American assistance to Gaza, in order to tackle the humanitarian and security situation in the coastal enclave. In his letter, Saban stated that the Senators blamed Israel for the situation, an accusation he described as "offensive" and "misinformed."
Saban specifically attacked Sanders, who has emerged in recent months as one of the most vocal critics of Israel's policies in the U.S. Senate. Sanders initiated the May 2018 letter to Pompeo that got Saban riled up. "Senators, for you to listen to Senator Sanders and accuse Israel of being the main culprit is outrageous, misinformed, offensive and shows a lack of understanding of the region’s basic fundamentals,” the billionaire wrote. “Do your homework, unless you have chosen to blindly follow Senator Sander’s ill advised, misinformed, simplistic, and ignorant lead.”
In the 2016 election, Saban was one of the largest donors to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. He criticized Sanders during the Democratic primary, which Clinton eventually won, for his positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saban has partnered in the past with Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, the largest donor to the Republican Party and President Trump's campaign, on issues related to Israel.
The Senators' letter last month was seen as another sign of the changing attitude towards Israel's policies within the Democratic Party. It was signed by a number of leading figures in the Senate, such as veteran Jewish legislator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), potential presidential contender Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and also Senator Sherron Brown (D-OH), who is up for re-election this year in a state that gave its electoral votes in 2016 to Trump.
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Saban's response to the letter is the latest evidence of growing concern among Democratic donors who are committed to supporting the Israeli government, yet are seeing the opposite trend, of more criticism towards Israel's policies, gain more traction within the party.