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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Following Paul Singer’s Money, Argentina, and Iran (Continued)

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Last week, Jim and Charles Davis addressed The Washington Post editorial board’s claim that Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had pushed an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.” They suggested that AIPAC and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies might be coordinating their efforts to portray Kirchner’s government as an ally of Iranian-backed terrorism with Paul Singer, the billionaire hedge fund manager who’s seeking to force Argentina to repay the full amount of the defaulted debt held by his firm.

As Jim and Charles noted, linking Singer to AIPAC and FDD doesn’t require an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. It simply requires following the money. Singer contributed $3.6 million to FDD between 2008 and 2011. In 2010, Singer’s personal and family foundations contributed a combined $1 million to AIPAC’s fundraising arm, the American Israel Education Foundation.

Both groups promoted the controversial work of Argentine Special Investigator Alberto Nisman, who in 2006 released a report claiming that top Iranian leaders ordered the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people. That claim was criticized for, among other things, its virtually exclusive reliance on the testimony of members of the Mujahedin e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that former members liken to a cult, as well as a long-discredited former Iranian intelligence agent. It was, however, just what anti-Iran hawks in the US wanted to hear, with AIPAC hosting Nisman at its 2010 policy conference and the neoconservative press casting the prosecutor as a muckraking hero.

In January 2015, Nisman died under suspicious circumstances, not long after making another controversial charge: that Kirchner and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman, were trying to cover up Iran’s alleged involvement in the AMIA bombing in order to facilitate major trade agreements between the two countries. Many see Nisman as a martyr.

Singer’s Money Talks

In yet another overlap between Paul Singer’s money and those critical of Argentina, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) this week introduced a Senate resolution demanding a “swift and transparent” investigation into the prosecutor’s death. It also accuses Kirchner of conspiring “to cover up Iranian involvement in the 1994 terrorist bombing.”

It turns out that Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management, was Rubio’s second largest source of campaign contributions between 2009 and 2014, providing the presidential hopeful with $122,620, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

It has not only been AIPAC, Rubio, and the American Enterprise Institute (which Jim and Charles cited in last week’s post) that have enjoyed Singer’s largesse…and tried to tie Kirchner’s government and alleged Iranian terrorism together.

The Israel Project (TIP), now headed up by AIPAC’s former chief spokesperson Josh Block, has received increasingly large contributions from the billionaire. Singer gave $500,000 to the group in 2007 and $1 million in the 2012 tax year (the year Block took over the group’s leadership and the last year for which there are publicly available tax filings). That makes Singer one of TIP’s two largest donors since Block arrived. And TIP has since provided a steady stream of content critical of Kirchner’s government.

The Tower magazine, a web publication launched by TIP, has published no less than 48 articles that mention Argentina, 28 and 40 of which in turn cite Nisman and the AMIA bombing, respectively, according to a search of its website. Ben Cohen, a contributing editor, recently wrote two pieces on Kirchner’s charges that groups attacking her government are tied financially to Singer – “Argentina’s President Discovers the International Jewish Conspiracy” and “Argentine Foreign Minister Turns on Jewish Leaders as AMIA Controversy Deepens.” In the latter piece, Cohen accuses the foreign minister, Timerman of participating in “an ugly round of ‘accuse the Jews.’” Timerman is himself Jewish. Argentina’s military junta abducted and tortured his father, the journalist Jacobo Timerman, in the late 1970s. In his book, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Numberthe elder Timerman documented the Nazi sympathies of his captors, their singling out of Jewish detainees (the vast majority of whom were killed) for particularly cruel treatment, and other parallels between Nazi Germany and the far-right junta.

In his first article, published one day before the Post’s editorial board chimed in with its own charges of Kirchner’s anti-Semitism, Cohen accused Argentine journalist Jorge Elbaum of being “a court Jew.” Elbaum had quoted Nisman as assuring other leaders of the Argentine Jewish community that “Paul Singer will help us” reverse Argentina’s rapprochement with Iran. Nisman’s interlocutors disputed the veracity of the quote, which was cited by Kirchner, after Elbaum published it.

Cohen explained that the problem with this allegedly fabricated quote is the broader narrative it serves:

[I]t is distinctly possible that Elbaum invented the quote in order to fit the theory that Singer, a leading hedge fund manager who has been embroiled in a lengthy legal dispute with Argentina following the country’s 2001 default on its foreign debt, was now funding political opposition to Fernández de Kirchner’s government. In that regard, Elbaum highlighted Singer’s financial support for the Washington, DC-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), whose research has highlighted Iran’s support for terrorism around the world. “You see,” wrote Fernández de Kirchner, “everything has to do with everything.”

Cohen concludes that these theories are “grounded not on concrete evidence, but on the ant-Semitic[sic] assumption that Jews involved in international affairs do so with a hidden agenda.” One has to ask: Was this the inspiration for the Post’s editorial?

As with the Post, what Cohen doesn’t address—and which Kirchner did—is the very palpable fact that Singer actually funds FDD. And he funds Cohen’s employer, which in turn has now paid Cohen twice to deflect attention from those financial links by firing back with a charge of anti-Semitism.

Singer’s Motives

Singer has a very clear financial motive to fund such attacks. He has taken Argentina to court over its debt default. Although 93 percent of its creditors accepted their losses, Singer is one of the few holdouts, having bought up Argentina’s defaulted bonds at pennies on the dollar and then sued the country for payment in full. If he succeeds, he and his firm could collect as much as $2 billion. And if his support for TIP can help advance his pressure campaign against Kirchner, it’s a very smart investment indeed.

Cohen is either unaware that journalistic ethics demand the disclosure of his conflict of interest. Or perhaps he is knowingly producing “sponsored content” that would suffer if its sponsor were revealed. Either way, that sort of journalism (practiced also by frequent Tower contributor and Argentina detractor Eamonn MacDonagh) fails to meet the basic standards to which all professional journalists should be held.

Meanwhile, Singer, a board member (with Sheldon Adelson) of the Republican Jewish Coalition who generally tries to avoid the media spotlight, remains politically active. Just this week, it was disclosed that he hosted a private meeting of “high-powered investors” at the Metropolitan Club in Manhattan with Jeb Bush, who reportedly disclosed that his most influential adviser on U.S.-Israel policy is none other than his brother, George W. At the same meeting, according to various accounts, Jeb also reassured his audience that former Secretary of State James Baker, despite having been listed by Jeb’s presidential campaign as a foreign-policy adviser, is in fact not part of his foreign-policy team. It hasn’t yet been disclosed whether the Argentine government’s alleged anti-Semitism and ties to Iran came up during the meeting.

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