Jewish Fundraisers Stick With Obama

Despite Taking Lumps, President Maintains Strong Support

Strong Support: Despite plenty of anecdotal evidence about tepid support among Jews, President Obama has maintained the backing of most key fundraisers from his 2008 election run.
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Strong Support: Despite plenty of anecdotal evidence about tepid support among Jews, President Obama has maintained the backing of most key fundraisers from his 2008 election run.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published December 19, 2011, issue of December 23, 2011.
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With more than a year to go before the election, most of the $500,000-level bundlers from 2008 have yet to raise an equally large sum for the 2012 campaign. Peter Buttenwieser, a longtime Obama stalwart and prominent Jewish supporter in Pennsylvania, was among the campaign’s top fundraisers in 2008, but had raised under $100,000 by the end of September, when the campaign released its most recent bundling data. DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, on the other hand, had already raised more than half a million dollars for the 2012 campaign.

Missing from the latest 2012 bundler list are top-level 2008 fundraisers Solow, and billionaire DreamWorks founder David Geffen. But Solow told the Forward that he is fundraising for the campaign. A spokesperson for the Obama campaign said that Geffen is also fundraising. Geffen did not respond to a request for comment.

At least nine top 2008 Jewish fundraisers are missing from the 2012 list because Obama has appointed them ambassadors to various countries, including Finland, Australia, Luxembourg, France and South Africa. Federal employees are barred from political fundraising.

The U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, who recently drew controversy over statements about Muslim anti-Semitism in Europe, was a top 2008 fundraiser. Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski, a graduate of an Orthodox day school, was also a top 2008 fundraiser. Federal law bars U.S. government employees from making campaign contributions in federal races.

New top-level Jewish fundraisers include Comcast executive vice president David Cohen, a onetime Hillary Clinton supporter and close confidante of former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell. Cohen, who once served as vice chairman of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, has already raised more than half a million dollars.

Also new to the ranks of Obama’s top-level Jewish bundlers is film producer Harvey Weinstein. He was embroiled in a controversy this year over “Miral,” a film about a Palestinian woman that his firm, The Weinstein Company, distributed. The film drew criticism from pro-Israel advocates after it was screened at the United Nations.

The large number of Jews among top Obama fundraisers could raise questions about Jewish influence on the administration’s Israel policy. There is no comparable presence of Palestinian American, Arab American or Muslim American fundraisers and bundlers within this funding inner circle. But Daniel Levy, co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, said that within the spectrum of Israel politics of the mainstream Jewish community, the major Jewish bundlers largely cancel each other out.

“I think what you will find is, that group of major Jewish bundlers breaks down into those who have progressive politics also on Israel and would be actively or passively closer to a J Street position, and those who would have a more hawkish position and perhaps be closer to AIPAC”— the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — “and those for whom Israel doesn’t factor in,” Levy said. “The preponderance of balance is not going to be with the hawkish-on-Israel crowd,” Levy added.

The current ambassador to Spain, Alan Solomont, was a top-tier 2008 Obama fundraiser and is a former member of the advisory council of J Street, a dovish pro-Israel lobby that sometimes opposes positions taken by Israel’s hawkish governing coalition. Solow, a former chairman of the Presidents Conference, is a vice president of AIPAC, whose stated policy is to promote relations between the United States and Israel regardless of the government in power in Jerusalem.

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com


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