We keep talking about how Netanyahu’s stunning victory has changed everything. One thing it’s done is compelled the press to start talking about the power of conservative Jewish donors inside the Democratic Party to support Israel reflexively. That’s a theme our website has long dealt with frankly. And look who’s catching up.
In the New York Times last Thursday, Jason Horowitz reports that Hillary Clinton is between a rock and a hard place on Israel. The Democratic base is growing increasingly critical of Israel’s rightwing government. But Clinton is unable to criticize Netanyahu, and she distances herself from her own negative comments about the Israeli settlement project while she was Secretary of State– saying she was “designated yeller.” And why? She needs the money, Horowitz explains.
The overwhelming percentage of Jewish voters, and donors, are liberal and will never vote for a Republican. The progressives who are bothered by Israel’s conservative government care a lot more about other issues, such as the economy and social issues. Support for the government is strong among what people close to Mrs. Clinton estimate to be about a 10 percent sliver of wealthy and influential moderate Democratic Jews for whom Israel is a priority, and could be a reason to withhold their financial backing, if not support a Republican candidate.
I’d emphasize that when Horowitz talks about that 10 percent, those are pro-settlement Jews. They surely make up a lot more than 10 percent of donations to Democratic candidates. And they want no criticism of Israel. They are the reason that Hillary Clinton’s husband ran to George H.W. Bush’s right on the settlements in 1992, and won. They are the reason that Barack Obama railroaded a plank in the Democratic Party platform at the 2012 convention, calling Jerusalem the capital of Israel, in the face of a floor demonstration against the plank. He didn’t want to alienate Haim Saban.
Horowitz also referenced the power of Jewish donors in the Republican presidential sweepstakes.
Potential candidates appealing to right-wing Jewish Republican megadonors like Sheldon Adelson or a base of conservative evangelicals, many of whom believe Israel has a biblically rooted right to the occupied territories, did not mention the two-state solution.
The Jewish donor issue has also come up at J Street. The young people of J Street U are making the power of rightwing donors inside liberal institutions an issue. Chemi Shalev has this report in Haaretz:
[I]n a move that might be described as naïve and perhaps even quixotic, the refreshingly bright eyed and bushy tailed minions of J Street U, the student body of the left-wing Jewish lobby, intend to speak truth to the growing power of money over Jewish life. And while casino magnate and Netanyahu benefactor Sheldon Adelson was everyone’s favorite villain at the J Street conference on Sunday, repeatedly garnering boos whenever his name was mentioned in the general plenum and in the students’ meetings, the target of J Street U’s first skirmish is Eric Fingerhut, the President and CEO of Hillel, the largest Jewish campus organization in America – or rather, Fingerhut’s donors. They are, as J Street U Director Sarah Turbow told Haaretz, “a microcosm” of “right wing donors that have a stranglehold over American Jewish institutions.”…
Fingerhut refused to speak at J Street, saying he objected to the presence of Saeb Erekat. The J Street youth leaders say this was a false cover story. “Wealthy donors” got to him.
“So what happened?” as J Street U’s hipsterish President Benjy Cannon asked a packed and excited crowd of 1100 students at Washington’s Convention Center. “It’s not hard to imagine: Wealthy donors and other stakeholders called him up and were so outraged that Eric would speak at a J Street Conference that he was forced to withdraw. Apparently, they were terrified of our politics.”
And why is that important? “These donors, the very same types who stop Hillel engaging with us, are putting Israel, Palestine and their prospects for peace in even graver danger.”
Shalev then gets to the heart of the Hillary Clinton issue too.
Cannon said that despite the Jewish community’s strong objections to settlements, its communal organs refuse to criticize the Israeli government, usually for fear of angering their right-wing benefactors. “And what does the administration learn from that? That the American Jewish community does not object to settlements.”
J Street U’s Northwest representative, Gabriel Erbs, who studies at Oregon’s Portland State University, told the crowd about his hometown precedent that will hopefully guide the group’s campaign against big Jewish money in the future.
“Big Jewish money,” supporting the settlement project– I wondered when I’d see those words in the mainstream press, without anyone saying that’s anti-Semitic. And these donors are trumping public opinion? This is actually a story about corruption. Sarah Turbow told Shalev that J Street U has challenged Hillel to meet with its donors and confront them directly. That’s fascinating; the civil war inside Jewish organizational life has begun. It’s great to see liberal Zionists (and surely some non-Zionists) taking on the Israel lobby. I believe it’s all too late for the Jewish state, but it’s very good for the American one.
Thanks to Annie Robbins.