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!
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • 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.