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

(page 2 of 2)

Fundraising by Mofaz, who was born in Iran and came to Israel as a child, was aimed primarily at Jews of Iranian and Sephardic descent in New York and Los Angeles. Mofaz raised a total of $237,000 from American donors this year. Among his big supporters were film producer Meir Teper and members of the Merage family, who are Iranian Jewish food business millionaires.

Livni, on the other hand, drew many prominent Ashkenazi Jewish figures to her side and raised nearly $230,000 in the United States in 2012. Livni’s donors include Canadian-born businessman Charles Bronfman, Slim Fast billionaire S. Daniel Abraham, philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, prominent Obama donor Victor Kovner and former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who added his $5,000 to Livni’s campaign.

Candidates from the Labor Party, despite the party’s shrinking role in Israel’s political map, still seem to draw a fair amount of support from American donors. Shelly Yachimovich, who won the party’s primary race in September 2011, did so without the help of overseas donors. But other candidates brought in significant donations from American supporters. Isaac Herzog, a popular politician and the son of former Israeli president Chaim Herzog, listed among his donors hedge fund manager and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, and peace process supporters S. Daniel Abraham, Bagel bakery millionaire Marvin Lender, private equity businessman Peter Joseph and Seymour Reich, a former head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Herzog raised in the United States alone more than $120,000 for his 2011 primary campaign, positioning him among the party’s top spenders. Still, he was not able to make the runoff for party leadership.

Another popular name among American donors was Amram Mitzna, former mayor of Haifa, who finished last in the primary race after raising $45,000 from American Jewish supporters.

Israeli fundraising in America takes different forms, and in many cases it has to do more with personal connections than with ideology. According to an Israeli political activist who asked not to be identified, only a few candidates make a face-to-face pitch to American donors. Most will either ask friends in the United States to serve as surrogates and reach out to donors on their behalf, or will reach out to potential contributors themselves by phone. “There is no system to it,” the activist said, explaining that Israeli political campaigns do not hire fundraising specialists for reaching out to American Jewish donors.

But even without a direct pitch, American Jews know when their help is needed. “Every time an Israeli decides to run for office, he takes a trip to the U.S. to start off,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman recalls attending many such meetings with visiting Israeli politicians seeking support.

Donation lists published by Israel’s State Comptroller reveal that several Jewish American donors provide funding to more than one candidate. Steinhardt has given to Labor’s Herzog and to Uzi Dayan, who ran in the Likud primary; Abraham supported Livni of Kadima while also donating to the campaigns of Labor candidates Herzog and Colette Avital, a former consul general to New York; Stanley Gold, president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings, has given to Livni and also to her party member Shlomo Molla, and Rabbi Brian Lurie, former head of San Francisco’s Jewish federation, donated to Livni and Herzog, and to Labor’s Avishay Braverman. “I admire and respect the three of them,” Lurie told the Forward in an interview.

These foreign donations to Israeli political parties and candidates have drawn negative attention over the years. In the past they were used even for national elections, thanks to legal loopholes that enabled candidates to raise foreign cash while avoiding public scrutiny. Major overseas donors have been known to bankroll Israeli leaders, from Ariel Sharon to Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu. Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is currently standing trial for allegedly receiving illegal cash donations in envelopes from New York businessman Morris Talansky.

Restrictions governing campaign donations have been tightened in recent years, however, putting limits on overseas fundraising and requiring full disclosure. “I’ve always been concerned about the possibility that one or two people will be in a position to buy Israeli elections with their donations,” Foxman said. But the new regulations, with their limits on donations and transparency requirements, have left him feeling more comfortable.

Lurie, who now serves as vice president of the New Israel Fund, said he does not see a problem with American Jews choosing to support certain candidates in Israel. “It’s part of my connection to the Jewish state,” he said. “You might say I am a citizen at large.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


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!
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • 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.