Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Saban: 'You made it big, you jerk!'

I have an article in this week's Jewish Journal about the $10 million Cheryl and Haim Saban pledged this month to the Los Angeles Free Clinic, where Cheryl was a patient 25 years ago, a few years before she married the man behind "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers." While writing that article, I came across this 15-month-old piece from Ari Shavit, one of Ha'aretz' great writers, about the family's Christmas tree and Haim's journey from Egyptian ghetto to Beverly Hills billionaire.
As the gaping guest walks by the neatly trimmed lawn and the wooden wheel of the imaginary water mill and the windows of the chateau, a heavy door opens for him, beyond which a gigantic Christmas tree sparkles and shines with its decorations. In the long stone corridors that lead to the wood-paneled guest room, the familiar songs of Naomi Shemer play softly: Whatever you wish, let it be. Whatever you wish, let it be.

Saban himself enters a few minutes later. He is somewhat excited. He didn't really want to be interviewed, but decided there was no choice. At the weekend he will convene the Saban Forum for the third time, and the gathering obliges public relations. Since he lost the hold he had in the White House through his good friends Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution and the Saban Forum have become his levers of influence on political Washington and on Jerusalem. (For the sake of proper disclosure: The author of this article was invited to lecture at the Saban Forum.)

n recent years, the ability of the colorful Israeli-American billionaire to bring together Ariel Sharon and Bill Clinton, Shimon Peres and Henry Kissinger, Tzipi Livni and Condoleezza Rice has become one of the achievements of which he is proud. During the two years in which his personal fortune grew from $2.2 billion to $2.8 billion (according to Forbes), Saban succeeded in adding to the list of power centers he controls this prestigious annual gathering of senior Israeli and American figures for a joint dialogue.

Does Haim Saban understand the suspicions that his large and well-connected fortune arouses in Israel? Does he see the problematic character of the relations between big capital and government? Even before he sits down in his armchair, Saban goes on the attack.
My favorite part is the headline, which seems to have no place in the text: "You made it big, you jerk."

As for the Christmas tree, Cheryl is Christian; they're raising their kids as Jews.

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