Israeli Politicians Court American Donors

Netanyahu Leads Pack as U.S. Cash Plays Growing Role

By Nathan Guttman

Published May 30, 2012, issue of June 01, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

For wealthy Americans these days, appeals for political contributions from candidates, party committees and now from super PACs seem never-ending. But for wealthy American Jews involved with Israel, there is, increasingly, yet one more hand outstretched, from abroad, seeking political largesse.

kurt hoffman

Israeli candidates, vying for seats in the Knesset, the country’s parliament, have found a reliable funding base in American Jews willing to add their dollars to the pile of shekels fueling primary races in Israel’s major political parties.

Recent primary competitions in the ruling Likud party and its new coalition partner, Kadima, have brought in more than $500,000 from American supporters trying to help out the leading candidates in each party. And while these sums may seem minor by American standards, they are significant for politicians in Israel.

“Primaries are an expensive business, and any money you can raise overseas is very important,” said Avraham Diskin, a political science professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Diskin explained that since primary elections were introduced into Israel’s political system (in the late 1970s in small parties and in the 1990s for major parties) campaign costs have been on the rise. Over time this has generated an increasing need to reach political donors. “This is way more significant than it was in the past,” Diskin said.

Israeli campaign finance laws strictly regulate donations in national elections and allow contributions from Israeli citizens only.

In primary races, however, candidates competing to win a high place on their party’s Knesset election list may raise money overseas from noncitizens so long as these donations are promptly reported to the State Comptroller. This is where close ties to deep-pocketed American Jews can make a difference. Money raised in the United States helps candidates fund primary organizing and advertising, although costly TV ads are not used in internal Israeli party contests.

Leading the pack of Israeli politicians supported by American donors is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in the run-up to the Likud’s January 31 primaries raised more than $300,000 in the United States. Netanyahu enjoys not only his stature as sitting prime minister, but also a strong base of support cultivated over decades of reaching out to American Jews, dating back to his tenure in New York as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in the mid-1980s.

Standing out among Netanyahu’s supporters in the recent primary elections cycle are members of the Florida-based Falic family, who made their fortune in the duty free retail business. Falic family members, who are active as lay leaders in Jewish groups including WIZO-USA and Friends of Israel Defense Forces, are responsible for $44,000 of Netanyahu’s war chest. Mark Tanenbaum of Miami Beach, an activist in the local Jewish federation and former member of the Tel Aviv University board of governors, and Eliot Lauer, a New York lawyer who is representing jailed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, are also among Netanyahu’s top U.S. donors.

The large sums raised in the United States were probably not necessary; Netanyahu easily won the Likud primary race by a 3-1 ratio. His only rival for the party’s leadership, ultra-hard-liner Moshe Feiglin, was able to raise only $20,000 from American supporters, most of them residing in Orthodox neighborhoods.

In the Kadima party, a close primary race earlier this spring between Knesset members Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz sent both candidates looking for support overseas to fund their battle for leadership of what was seen at the time as Israel’s main alternative to the Netanyahu government. The elections, held on March 28, crowned Mofaz head of the party, and he quickly moved to join Netanyahu’s coalition.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.