Why pro-Israel groups are funding Nikki Haley’s presidential bid

Ramzy Baroud

Though it has been argued that the so-called American dream is long dead, Nikki Haley is proof that the dream is still alive. Unfortunately, the “dream” is hers alone. A close confidant, until recently, of former US President Donald Trump and his pro-Israel circle, Haley wants to be the next president. On Feb. 14, she declared her candidacy and, starting in February next year, she will be officially competing against her former boss in the Republican primaries.
While it is true that her popularity among Republican Party supporters hovers between 3 and 4 percent, Haley still feels that she can win, if she plays her cards right. Though victory in a party that is keen on neither women nor minority politicians is a long shot, she has enough success stories to give her the needed confidence. “Even on our worst day, we are blessed to live in America,” Haley said in her campaign launch video. Though such a statement may appear somewhat typical of US politicians on such occasions, Haley’s statement carries hidden, even troubling, insinuations.
Haley considers her life a testament to the ahistorical claim that “America is not a racist country” – a chant she led to the cheers of thousands of her supporters at her first campaign rally in Charleston, South Carolina, last week. For Republicans, the Haley profile is critical because it is uncommon. They understand that a Black candidate will not perform well among their constituency. Still, they desperately need a candidate who will appeal to disenchanted minority voters, if that candidate reaffirms the existing beliefs of most Republicans: That America is a great country free of racism and inequality, with many dangerous foreign enemies and that Israel is its most trusted ally. Haley has enthusiastically played that part for years.
“I was the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. Not Black. Not white. I was different,” she said. This seemingly innocuous statement has served as Haley’s central message in her political career since she left her family’s Exotica International clothing business in 2011 to successfully run for the governor’s office in South Carolina. In 2017, Haley’s success story continued. She became the US ambassador to the UN. This position has historically been far more relevant to Israeli interests than America’s because the UN is one of the few international platforms through which Palestinians and their supporters attempt, though often in vain, to hold Israel accountable for its illegal practices in occupied Palestine.
For decades, the US has opposed any attempt by Arab and other countries to punish Israel for its military occupation and continued human rights violations in the Occupied Territories. The dozens of vetoes used by the US to block any attempt to condemn Israeli colonialism or war crimes at the UN Security Council tell only part of the story. Within the relatively short span of two years of diplomacy that catered mostly to serving Israel, Haley managed to successfully help in the blocking of US funding for UNRWA. She also engineered her country’s exit from the UN Human Rights Council due to its criticism of Israel.
She is also credited with being part of the decision that led to America’s abrupt withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal with Iran and was a crucial member of the Trump team behind the so-called Deal of the Century, which ultimately fizzled out into empty rhetoric. Now Haley is hoping to cash in – literally – on her dedication to Israel and to her country’s hawkish foreign policy in the Middle East. One claim that she has repeatedly made to her donors, which consist mostly of pro-Israeli billionaires, is that she has kept all the promises she made to Israel at the 2017 American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference. Indeed, she has.
Her performance at the lobby group’s annual policy conference “thrilled the crowd,” The Times of Israel reported at the time. In her speech, Haley, intoxicated by the political potential of a standing ovation from 18,000 AIPAC conference attendees, declared herself the “new sheriff in town,” who will make sure that “the days of Israel-bashing at the UN are over.” Regarding Israel, the sheriff delivered, ushering in the country’s golden age at the UN and forging lasting friendships with top Israeli officials and donors. Haley became a “source of pride for hawkish supporters of Israel for leading the fight against anti-Israel resolutions,” the weekly Jewish newspaper The Forward wrote last week.
Notably, four seconds of footage in Haley’s campaign launch video was shot in Israel, near the fence with besieged Gaza. Walking alongside her was the former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon. While at the UN, they developed a “unique working relationship – and a lasting friendship,” The Forward reported, citing Danon, currently a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. Significantly, the former Israeli ambassador believes that, if “Haley was running for president in Israel, she would have won easily.” Considering her poor performance among US voters, one must ask the question: Why would an American presidential candidate be far more popular among Israelis than Americans?
Haley’s strategy, however, is paying dividends, at least financially. The Forward’s Jacob Kornbluh elaborated on the sources of funding for Haley’s super political action committee, Stand for America. Much of the $17 million raised in the last election cycle came from “prominent Jewish donors.” They included Miriam Adelson, the widow of late pro-Israeli casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, as well as Paul Singers, Bernie Marcus and Daniel Loeb, among many others.
It may seem strange that such funds are invested in a candidate who has, at least for now, little chance of winning the Republican nomination, but that money is not wasted. The pro-Israeli donors are simply rewarding Haley’s many favors, knowing that, regardless of her exact position in government, she will always continue to prioritize Israel’s interests in her political agenda, even including, if needed, ahead of her own country’s.