Marco Rubio Is Running Out of Time to Deliver Middle East Return on Investment for Big Donors
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio speaks to voters before the Michigan presidential primary. (Steve Lagreca / Shutterstock.com)
This column is the first in a series about the presidential candidates on Israel and Palestine.
Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that he’d like to be “kind of a neutral guy” when it comes to Israel produced a lot of seething and squirming among the extreme pro-Israel GOP crowd (read: nearly every member of the party), especially those accustomed to loyalty oaths that would make Joe McCarthy blush.
One of the indignant sycophants, Marco Rubio, will never be accused of neutrality, evenhandedness, reason, or any other value that might actually contribute to a meaningful solution in Israel/Palestine. Trump’s position “is an anti-Israel position,” Rubio spat during the debate in Houston. “You cannot be an honest broker in a dispute between two sides in which one of the sides is constantly acting in bad faith.”
West Bank Jewish settlers tripling since the beginning of the Oslo “peace process”? Arab East Jerusalem surrounded by 17 Jewish settlements? A 400:1 ratio in civilian casualties in the 2014 Gaza war? Israel’s explosive power in that war equal to 1,500 times that of all the Hamas rockets fired into Israel? No matter. Of course, Sen. Rubio is talking about Palestinian bad faith.
This is hardly a surprise. Rubio is a prime candidate in the so-called Sheldon Adelson primary, also known as Bootlicking for Dollars. The billionaire casino mogul, funder of settlements and of GOP candidates, who once advocated nuking Iran, is now said to be favoring Rubio.
But Rubio does not even need Adelson’s support to achieve front-runner status as Bootlicker in Chief. For years he has happily had his pockets lined by Paul Singer, another neocon billionaire and a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is strongly allied with Benjamin Netanyahu and the hard right in Israel. Singer, principal of the hedge fund Elliott Management, was the second-largest source of Rubio’s campaign contributions between 2009 and 2014, according to Eli Clifton of the excellent Lobelog. Rubio, in turn, did Singer’s bidding in Argentina, where the billionaire’s hedge fund stood to make more than $2 billion by maintaining a hard line on the country’s debt crisis. (Argentina negotiated partial repayment with nearly all creditors, but the Wall Street hedge funds, led by Singer, held out for full payment—even though they had bought the debt for pennies on the dollar—earning them the lovely moniker of “vulture funds.”)
Singer’s strategy, according to Lobelog, involved demonizing leftist President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who had pledged not to repay the “vulture funds” in full. Rubio, recipient of more than $122,000 from Singer, repaid him with a Senate resolution accusing the Argentine president of conspiring “to cover up Iranian involvement in the 1994 terrorist bombing” at a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, and calling for a “full and transparent” investigation into the alleged Iranian connection.
Five months later, Singer endorsed Rubio for president. And on Monday, with a new, more conservative president in place in Argentina, Singer’s hedge fund finally got the deal it wanted, cashing in at $2.28 billion, or 369 percent of what it originally paid at the height of Argentina’s debt crisis in 2001.
Yet the billionaire nearest and dearest to the Rubio family is neither Adelson nor Singer. It’s a Miami car dealer, Norman Braman, former owner of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, who donated more than $300,000 to bolster Ariel, a settlement of 20,000 Israelis smack in the center of the Palestinian West Bank. Ariel has long been one of the single biggest obstacles to a peace deal.
Braman has been underwriting both the settlements and the Rubios for years. A New York Times profile of Braman declared that the billionaire “has bankrolled Mr. Rubio’s campaigns … financed Mr. Rubio’s legislative agenda … [and] subsidized Mr. Rubio’s personal finances.” Braman, the article continued, “hired Mr. Rubio, then a Senate candidate, as a lawyer; employed his wife to advise the Braman family’s philanthropic foundation; helped cover the cost of Mr. Rubio’s salary as an instructor at a Miami college; and gave Mr. Rubio access to his private plane. The money has flowed both ways. Mr. Rubio has steered taxpayer funds to Mr. Braman’s favored causes, successfully pushing for an $80 million state grant to finance a genomics center at a private university and securing $5 million for cancer research at a Miami institute for which Mr. Braman is a major donor.”
And of course, there is Braman’s love of the Israeli settlements, a love he has helped foster in Rubio. On Rubio’s first trip to Israel, shortly after his election to the Senate in 2010, Braman and his wife were there to show Marco and his wife around. “Specific details” of the trip, Rubio’s people said, “will be kept private.” Oh. Sorry for asking. It’s really not that important. The fact that a just-elected senator was to be escorted through the Holy Land by an extremist representative of the hard right of one side of a conflict that pits the U.S. against most of the world—sure, that’s really none of our business. Pardon us for the inquiry.
So we can’t say for sure where the billionaire car dealer and ex-NFL owner took the incoming tea party senator on his first trip to the Holy Land. But there’s little doubt that the billionaire schooled the senator-elect on the ways of the settlements. Now, when Rubio takes to the Senate floor to denounce Palestinians and praise Netanyahu, he uses settler language—“Judea and Samaria,” rather than the occupied Palestinian territories, or even just “the West Bank”—to prove his allegiance, and his disdain for neutrality.
In the end, really, it doesn’t matter which Marco billionaire you focus on. Like politicians everywhere, Sen. Rubio is well trained in the art of political indebtedness. His predictable hard lines—more weapons for Israel, roll back the Iran deal, silence Israel’s critics, and end Palestinian dreams of statehood by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem—are straight out of the neocon playbook. And no one will be a more loyal player, and more deeply on the hook, than Marco Rubio.