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Why Did Establishment Democrats Nominate Tom Perez for Party Chair?

Posted on Feb 25, 2017

    Haim Saban, founder of the Saban Capital Group and a major donor to the Democratic Party. (Nati Harnik / AP)

Editor’s note: Tom Perez won the Democratic National Committee chair race Saturday. He beat fellow contender Keith Ellison in a 235-200 vote. Perez quickly appointed Ellison deputy chair of the DNC.

Barack Obama’s White House pushed former Labor Secretary Tom Perez to challenge Rep. Keith Ellison in the race for the Democratic Party chair to satisfy the Israel-American billionaire Haim Saban and other party donors, according to Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept.

The Democratic Party will elect its new chair Saturday. Ellison is seen as an outsider whose election would foster a sense of empowerment among the party’s Bernie Sanders supporters, while Perez is seen as loyal to the party’s Clinton/Obama wing.

Noting that Perez’s backers argue that he and Ellison are virtually identical ideologically, Greenwald probed into why establishment Democrats would bother nominating Perez at all.

Just over two weeks after Ellison announced, the largest single funder of both the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign – the Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban – launched an incredibly toxic attack on Ellison, designed to signal his veto. “He is clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual,” pronounced Saban about the African-American Muslim Congressman, adding: “Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.”

Saban has a long history not only of fanatical support for Israel – “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel,” he told The New York Times in 2004 about himself – but also an ugly track record of animus toward Muslims. As The Forward gently put it, he is prone to “a bit of anti-Muslim bigotry,” including when he said Muslims deserve “more scrutiny,” and “also called for profiling and broader surveillance.” In 2014, he teamed up with right-wing billionaire Sheldon Adelson to push a pro-Israel agenda. In that notorious NYT profile, he attacked the ACLU for opposing Bush/Cheney civil liberties assaults and said: “On the issues of security and terrorism I am a total hawk.”

There’s no evidence that Saban’s attack on Ellison is what motivated the White House to recruit an opponent. But one would have to be indescribably naïve about the ways of Washington to believe that such a vicious denunciation by one of the party’s most influential billionaire funders had no effect at all. …

The DNC headquarters was built with Saban’s largesse: he donated $7 million to build that building, and he previously served as chairman of the Party’s capital-expenditure campaign. Here’s how Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll, in a November profile, described the influence Saban wields within elite Democratic circles:

No single political patron has done more for the Clintons over the span of their careers. In the past 20 years, Saban and his wife have donated $2.4 million to the Clintons’ various campaigns and at least $15 million to the Clinton Foundation, where Cheryl Saban serves as a board member. Haim Saban prides himself on his top-giver status: “If I’m not No. 1, I’m going to cut my balls off,” he once remarked on the eve of a Hillary fundraiser. The Sabans have given more than $10 million to Priorities USA, making them among the largest funders of the pro-Hillary super-PAC. In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential campaign, he vowed to spend “whatever it takes” to elect her. . . .

“There is no case for Perez that cannot be made for Ellison, while Ellison is able to energize progressives in ways that Perez cannot,” Greenwald wrote. “The question that will be answered on Saturday is whether Democrats have more urgent priorities than denying power to the left.”

Read more here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly


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