EXCLUSIVE: Democratic Rising Star In Swing District Gave $300K To Pro-BDS Groups
The foundation run by the newly minted Democratic candidate for Congress in one of the most heavily Jewish congressional districts in the country has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations that promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, the Forward has learned.
Scott Wallace, a multimillionaire philanthropist and the grandson of former vice president Henry Wallace, won the party primary in Pennsylvania’s Bucks County outside Philadelphia on Tuesday night, earning him the right to face off against first-term incumbent Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.
Wallace’s financial support for groups that are strongly critical of Israel is the latest indication of a split in the Democratic Party between supporters and critics of the Jewish state.
“It might cost him the election,” the longtime former leader of the Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council, Burt Siegel, told the Forward.
Along with his wife, Wallace ran the Wallace Global Fund from 2003 until he stepped down to run for Congress earlier this year. The fund, which according to its most recently available tax filing in 2016 has more than $140 million in net assets, primarily promotes its work combatting climate change, protecting voting rights and strengthening civil society in Africa. But it has also dispersed hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that are critical of Israel over the past decade, according to tax records.
The race in Pennsylvania’s First District is seen by analysts as a bellwether of whether Democrats can capture the House of Representatives, buoyed by a surge of anti-Trump candidates primarily in suburban areas.
The district is considered a “toss-up” by both the Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, two respected nonpartisan prognosticators. The district is also one of the most Jewish in the country. The old district that largely occupied the area was the 38th-most Jewish district in the country, according to a study by the Berman Jewish Databank, and has likely become more Jewish as a result of the state’s court-mandated redistricting process to undo partisan gerrymandering.
The new state districts are expected to give Democrats a net gain of three to five seats in the House from Pennsylvania, giving a key boost in their quest to flip 23 GOP-held seats and take back the House. Wallace, 66, has been endorsed by leading progressive groups; he is taking on Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent and relative moderate who has served one term after taking over the congressional seat from his older brother. Now, the news of Wallace’s donations may impact what’s expected to be a very close race.
In 2009, the Wallace Global Fund gave $25,000 to Code Pink, the same year that the anti-war organization formally endorsed BDS.
The fund gave $25,000 in 2010 and another $25,000 in 2011 to Jewish Voice for Peace, the most prominent American Jewish pro-BDS group.
In 2011, the foundation gave $150,000 earmarked for Haymarket Books, the far-left publishing company. That same year, Haymarket published “BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle For Palestinian Rights,” a manifesto of the movement by one of its main leaders, Omar Barghouti. The book’s copyright page notes that it was published “with the generous support of Lannan Foundation and the Wallace Global Fund.” Haymarket has gone on to publish several more books on the issue by controversial Palestinian-American activists like Ali Abunimah and Steven Salaita.
The foundation also gave Haymarket’s parent company $25,000 in 2005 in support of a speaking tour for the controversial British politician George Galloway, who has frequently been accused of crossing the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Soon before the speaking tour commenced in 2005, Galloway called Israel a “little Hitler state on the Mediterranean,” and went on in later years to claim that the British media is controlled by Zionists.
The fund gave $40,000 in 2013 and $50,000 in both 2014 and 2015 to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a left-wing legal advocacy group. The fund’s website says that the donations were meant for “challenging the rise of the ‘National Security State’” and advocating on issues like stop-and-frisk and the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But the CCR is also known for its support and advocacy for BDS; they most recently garnered attention for organizing a tour of Israel and the West Bank for activists like Tamika Mallory of the Women’s March.
The Wallace Global Fund is also connected to another controversial Women’s March leader: It gave $5,000 in 2016 to the Arab American Association of New York, which at the time was run by the pro-BDS Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour.
Wallace’s campaign office did not return requests for comment. After the publication of this article, Wallace’s campaign manager, Eric Nagy, issued a statement saying that Wallace did not support BDS.
“It’s no surprise the [National Republican Congressional Committee] would resort to misleading political attacks to distort Scott Wallace’s record the day after he won the primary,” Nagy wrote. “Here are the facts: Scott Wallace strongly supports the state of Israel. Scott unequivocally disavows the BDS movement. The grants in question were made by a member of the Wallace Global Fund’s leadership from a discretionary fund that other leadership did not exercise authority over. Again, this is a shameful attempt by the NRCC to attack Scott Wallace on the first day of the general election.”
JVP and CCR declined to comment to the Forward. The other recipient organizations did not respond to requests to comment.
Wallace’s supporters have played up his progressive bona fides — an article in the left-wing magazine The Nation lists Wallace as one of “10 Progressive Candidates We’re Keeping Our Eyes On for the Midterms,” citing the Wallace Global Fund’s work on women’s issues and climate change. The article does not mention that the Wallace Global Fund has repeatedly donated to The Nation Institute, which was founded by principals of The Nation and helps fund the publication’s internship program.
Wallace’s campaign website does not mention Israel. Its section on international relations emphasizes diplomacy: “Our job in Congress must be to prevent conflict, not stoke it.”
Wallace’s donations are “deeply concerning to me,” Jill Zipin, a founder and spokesperson for Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, told the Forward when informed about the gifts.
DJOP tries to meet with every Democratic candidate for office in the state. Zipin said that Wallace’s primary opponent, Rachel Reddick, told her that Wallace had contributed to organizations that support BDS. She says she called Wallace afterward.
“He said that’s not true,” she recounted. She said that Wallace denied that he supported BDS, and claimed that he was a founding member of J Street and had served on its board.
J Street did not return a request for comment to clarify Wallace’s alleged relationship with the organization. A search of J Street’s annual reports going back to 2008 does not show any mention of Wallace himself or the Wallace Global Fund.
Zipin said that she has not had any further contact with Wallace despite continued outreach to his campaign.
She added she had been seeing growing support for BDS in her party.
“In the Democratic Party itself, people who are not familiar with the [Israeli-Palestinian] issue generally are supporting BDS,” Zipin explained.
“These days, people just want simple answers to complex problems, which is why we have Donald Trump,” she added.
Outright support for BDS has already affected one Democratic candidate this cycle: Daniel Biss, a candidate for governor of Illinois, dropped his running mate Daniel Ramirez-Rosa after it emerged that Ramirez-Rosa supported BDS. Biss went on to lose the primary.
And Cynthia Nixon, a progressive candidate for New York governor, has been criticized by some prominent Jews, including Alan Dershowitz, for supporting Israeli artists who are boycotting performing in settlements.
“If Wallace does not have a good explanation, a number of people will vote for Democratic candidates for other slots but not Wallace,” said Siegel, formerly of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Wallace’s net worth is between $127 million and $309 million, according to his financial disclosure statement. This would make him the third-richest member of Congress if elected today.
Wallace spent more than $2 million in the primary campaign, when he was criticized by his Democratic opponent for having spent his recent years in Maryland and South Africa rather than his childhood home in Pennsylvania. But he overcame the hurdle with the help of his massive financial advantage and the endorsement of the Bucks County Democratic Committee and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The donations to the pro-BDS groups are only a small percentage of the monies donated by the fund (more than $12 million dispersed in 2016). But Zipin found it concerning nonetheless.
“If Scott Wallace, it turns out, supports BDS, he won’t get our endorsement, even though he’s a progressive,” she said.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that The Nation Institute is the parent organization of the magazine The Nation. In fact, they are two legally distinct organizations.
Contact Aiden Pink at [email protected]