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Who Are the Billionaires Attacking Obama’s Iran Diplomacy?

A new investigation has shed light on the billionaire donors behind The Israel Project, a hawkish “pro-Israel” advocacy group.

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Since taking the helm of The Israel Project two and a half years ago, former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block has turned the pro-Israel advocacy group into one of the shrillest opponents of diplomacy with Iran. But, according to documents obtained by The Nation, two of the groups’ billionaire underwriters may have their own anti-Obama impetuses, beyond simply a right-wing objection to striking a nuclear accord with Israel’s arch-foe.

Block’s pushes to denigrate and even kill talks with Iran come a dime a dozen. Just two weeks ago, ahead of Obama’s State of the Union Address, Block emailed a list of reporters with a list of “FACTS AND TALKING POINTS” (his caps) claiming Sens. Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez’s proposed sanctions bill against Iran was “NOT new sanctions legislation.” My colleague Ali Gharib addressed Block’s misleading “FACTS,” pointing out that the first words of the legislation explained its purpose as, “To expand sanctions imposed with respect to Iran and to impose additional sanctions with respect to Iran.” Block’s misrepresentation of the legislation is particularly ironic because he accused the administration of peddling “false,” “misleading” and “ridiculous” information about the sanctions bill. Obama would go on to promise a veto if the bill reached his desk.

TIP’s growing hostility to Obama’s ongoing negotiations with Iran also came to the fore three weeks ago, when Obama reportedly suggested “donors” were behind some of the attempts to sabotage talks with sanctions. Block went apoplectic, telling the Washington Post’s far-right columnist Jennifer Rubin, “It’s a vile suggestion and one that will only damages [sic] the President’s personal credibility and his position.”

So who are the major donors behind TIP, an organization who, under Block’s leadership, has emerged as an attack dog against the White House’s Iran-policy?

A document (viewable here) acquired by The Nation lists TIP’s major donors from October 2012 to September 2013, revealing that just two billionaire hedge funders provided over one-third of the group’s total revenue. The two funders with the outsize roles were GOP megadonor Paul Singer and Hillary Clinton booster Richard Perry. Each contributed $1 million, making them TIP’s two largest donors.

Perry, the media-shy owner of Barneys and manager of the Perry Capital hedge fund, runs in the Clintons’ New York City and Hamptons social circles. He gives to the Clinton Foundation and, along with his wife, makes no secret of his support for Hillary Clinton’s future political aspirations.

A 2007 New York Times profile of Richard and his wife, Lisa Perry, describes two large portrait photographs of Hillary Clinton adorning the hallways of their penthouse apartment. In Tablet magazine profile two years ago, Lisa Perry explains that she lost interest in politics because she “really wanted Hillary to be president.” Despite that disappointment, she contributed to Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, though her husband, who had contributed in 2008, gave no money.

But even Hillary Clinton, who has her own complicated history with Obama, has refrained from joining in on the calls for new sanctions against Iran. A day after Obama’s State of the Union Address, Clinton that introducing additional sanctions would be a “serious strategic error.”

TIP’s other million-dollar-donor in the period covered by the documents, the GOP megadonor Paul Singer, was no doubt disappointed himself by Obama’s election victories. But if Singer’s other policy-oriented giving is any indication, he’s also majorly committed to pursuing confrontation with Iran. Singer sits on the board of the neoconservative Republican Jewish Coalition and contributed to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish think tank whose members have advocated for “crippling sanctions” and bombing Iran.

Singer has also lent his support to the American Enterprise Institute, the brain trust of the George W. Bush White House, whose scholars advocated for the invasion of Iraq and perpetually decry Iran diplomacy in tandem with calls for more hawkish measures.

A disappointed Clinton donor and GOP/neoconservative patron might believe Block’s claims to be fighting the “war of ideas” to defend Israel against the Obama administration’s attempts to solve the nuclear crisis peacefully. But if they’re hoping to bring Jewish-Americans along to TIP’s “war,” they may face higher hurdles: a November poll of American Jewish voters found that 84-percent supported the outlines of an agreement along the lines the Obama administration is reportedly pursuing.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Block attempted to orchestrate a campaign against me and my colleagues at the Center for American Progress back in 2011. Block’s business partner, Lanny Davis, repudiated Block’s smears and the affair culminated in the Truman National Security Project expelling Block for his “mischaracterization” and “character attacks.”)

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