The takeaway from my story yesterday on New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is that “you must be very pro-Israel to rise to power in NYC,” as New York Observer reporter Ross Barkan put it. It also doesn’t hurt your campaign war chest.
To be fair, progressives who aren’t pro-Israel activists have also donated to his campaign. Progressives in New York have no viable alternative outside of de Blasio, who doesn’t feel the need to appeal to any sympathy they might have to the Palestinian cause. But it’s likely some of his donor base would dry up if he started agreeing with what the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York said on Palestine back in the early 1990s.
So here’s an addendum to my story: a list of some of the pro-Israel donors who have helped de Blasio along for this mayoral campaign. While it’s by no means an exhaustive list–there’s probably more donors that fit into this category–it is a window into the role pro-Israel money plays in New York City politics, and indeed American politics writ large. My data is drawn from New York City’s Campaign Finance Board. The limit on donations to New York City mayoral candidates per election cycle is $4,950.
–Josh Block: The former American Israel Public Affairs Committee spokesman–and peddler of smears targeting journalists who stray from a pro-Israel line–has given de Blasio $1,100. Block, the current head of The Israel Project, is a former spokesman for Bill Clinton’s campaign and served as spokesman for the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development during the Clinton administration. De Blasio also worked for the Clinton administration.
–Warren Eisenberg: The co-founder of Bed, Bath and Beyond gave de Blasio the maximum in 2011: $4,950. Eisenberg is a liberal Zionist. He recently signed an Israel Policy Forum letter urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “to work closely with Secretary of State John Kerry to devise pragmatic initiatives, consistent with Israel’s security needs, which would represent Israel’s readiness to make painful territorial sacrifices for the sake of peace.” He is also a funder of Hand in Hand, which creates joint Arab-Jewish schools throughout Israel. Eisenberg also funded the position of “Israel emissary” on the Rutgers campus. That position is meant to put a good “face on Israel” to combat “the rise of anti-Israel sentiment,” Lihi Rothschild, the emissary, told the New Jersey Jewish News.
–Kenneth Feinberg: Here’s another de Blasio donor with ties to Israel. He gave the Democratic candidate $1,000 in 2012. Feinberg headed up the September 11 victims compensation fund and was the “pay czar” for the Troubled Asset Relief Fund. Feinberg advised Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government on the 2005 Gaza pullout. In a defense of President Obama from right-wing critics who say he’s not pro-Israel, he told Shalom TV, “There is not a greater friend of Israel than the president and particularly, former Senator Hillary Clinton, who stands–in terms of credibility with the Israeli community, [and with] the Jewish community in America–as the foremost advocate for Israel’s protection.”
–Paula Gottesman: This philanthropist is a trustee of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a spin-off of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. She gave de Blasio $4,950 earlier this year.
–Leon Goldenberg: The CEO of Goldmont Realty has been in the press vouching for de Blasio. A prominent member of the Orthodox Jewish community, he is a board member for Agudath Israel of America. While the group has traditionally shied away from taking positions on Israel, in 2007 they endorsed a resolution calling on Israel to never give up Jerusalem. He has given de Blasio a total of $3,750.
–Evgeny Friedman: As this site recently noted, WNYC’s Brigid Bergin had an excellent report earlier this week on de Blasio’s hawkishness on Iran. She reported that “Evgeny Freidman, president of the Taxi Club, raised $49,450 from 11 donors” for the de Blasio campaign. Freidman “supports many charities from the Israeli Defense Force to the UJA Federation of New York,” according to a biography on the Greater New York Taxi Association.
–Jack Rosen: This chairman of the American Jewish Congress is a major booster of President Obama’s Israel policy, and his driving concern is “doing what’s right for Israel, and that’s his only agenda,” as a Democratic consultant told the Forward in 2011. He gave de Blasio $1,000 this year. While he’s a big-time Clinton supporter, he’s also close with neoconservatives, as this site noted in May 2013.
New York City mayors have little bearing on U.S. foreign policy, but their rhetoric contributes to the overwhelming pro-Israel political climate in the country and can help chill critical discourse. A Mayor de Blasio may have to weigh in on local controversies over Israel, like the one that erupted around Brooklyn College. Those donors may weigh heavily on de Blasio’s mind the next time he has to take a stand on a dispute pitting academic freedom–or free speech–and Israel.