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‘NYT’ and ‘J Street’ address power of Jewish donors behind Hillary and Hillel

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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. 



Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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14 Responses

  1. just on March 23, 2015, 1:12 pm

    “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.”

    “Fascinating” and long overdue! Thanks, Phil and Annie! In other great news:

    “Swarthmore seals split from Hillel, renames itself Kehilah

    Name change follows decision by campus Jewish organization to drop affiliation with Hillel International over restrictions on Israel issues.

    The Swarthmore College chapter of Hillel has voted to rename itself Swarthmore Kehilah.

    The name change, announced on Sunday, follows the decision by the Jewish on-campus organization to drop its affiliation with Hillel International, due to the latter’s restrictions on issues concerning Israel.

    The name Kehilah, which means Community, was chosen through an open submission process for new names and two rounds of voting in less than a week. The initial ballots resulted in a tie between Ruach, which was the name of the campus community organization before it affiliated with Hillel, and Kehilah. A tie-breaking vote was held on Sunday.

    In December 2013, the Hillel of Swarthmore College declared itself an Open Hillel, saying it would not abide by Hillel International’s rules prohibiting partnering with or hosting groups or speakers who deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish or democratic state; delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel; or support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

    Hillel International emailed a letter to Swarthmore deans on March 16 threatening legal action if students at the college’s Hillel chapter hosted an upcoming program with speakers espousing anti-Israel or pro-BDS viewpoints. The campus group voted on the same day to disaffiliate with Hillel International and to change its name.”

    • JWalters on March 23, 2015, 8:04 pm

      “We’ll sue you”. Right on, wouldn’t want people to learn too many facts – they might get the wrong impression. Kudos to those Swarthmore students!

    • Krauss on March 23, 2015, 11:25 pm

      Thanks just for linking that article.

      I believe this is just the beginning. Hardline organizations like Hillel will be keep losing more and more Hillels as their until-our-death support for Apartheid softens(which it won’t, because they need to obey their donors).

  2. lysias on March 23, 2015, 2:34 pm

    Isn’t Hillary so far ahead in the money race that she doesn’t need to worry about offending those Jewish donors?

  3. Citizen on March 23, 2015, 4:03 pm

    Hey, Looks Like The Talmud Has Come Home To Roost Big Time! Nothing Like Nukes & US Taxpayer funds To Make IT Happen!

  4. just on March 23, 2015, 7:01 pm

    “The White House issued a passionate call for eventual Palestinian statehood on Monday as it stepped up criticism of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, for appearing to question a two-state solution to Middle East peace.

    “An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end,” Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, told a conference of liberal activists in Washington. “Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely,” he added.

    Despite Netanyahu’s efforts to distance himself from pre-election comments that appeared to rule out a Palestinian state, the US administration remains sceptical about his commitment to peace.

    “We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the prime minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations,” McDonough told 3,000 delegates at the national conference of J-Street, a Washington lobby group which describes itself as pro-Israel but supports a two-state peace process for a Palestinian state.

    “Palestinian children deserve the same right to be free in their own land as Israeli children in their land,” he added. “A two-state solution will finally bring Israelis the security and normalcy to which they are entitled, and Palestinians the sovereignty and dignity they deserve.””

    “Interesting” that The Guardian never names the “liberal activists” as attendees at J Street (they mention it in the caption of the photo)…really odd.

    • annie on March 23, 2015, 7:11 pm

      The Guardian never names the “liberal activists” as attendees at J Street

      well, it goes on to say:

      McDonough told 3,000 delegates at the national conference of J-Street

      • just on March 23, 2015, 7:17 pm

        Dagnabit! I did a search and left the hyphen (???) out!

        That’s our Annie~ doesn’t miss a beat! Thank you.

  5. JWalters on March 23, 2015, 7:49 pm

    “The young people of J Street U are making the power of rightwing donors inside liberal institutions an issue.”

    It seems to me human nature is susceptible to financial bigotry as well as religious and racial bigotry. In particular, the ultra-wealthy can see themselves as superior beings, even if they inherit their wealth, or are brought into an exclusive club of wealth for their services.

    Wealth bigots can view the non-wealthy as expendable. They may care little for religious or racial distinctions, except where they can use them to fan hatreds and confusions, which help them maintain control. Hence they may even prey on their own ethnic groups.

    Since war is one of the most profitable enterprises (especially when re-construction of destroyed infrastructure is included) some of the ruthless ultra-wealthy will be war profiteers.

    Money motives should not be allowed to masquerade as religious motives. The young people of J Street U are right to “follow the money.” Go get ’em.

    • Krauss on March 23, 2015, 11:24 pm

      JW, that may be true in other cases but not in Israel. To shift blame on wealth is to look away from the real issue: tribalism.

      There’s not much money to made for uber-billionaires like Adelson in supporting small colonies of Jewish settlements in the WB. He does so out of tribal loyalty.

  6. RockyMissouri on March 24, 2015, 4:47 pm

    I would not want a candidate who is beholden to Israel….or, ANY nation.

  7. Rusty Pipes on March 24, 2015, 6:23 pm

    While Uri Avneri’s article depicts Vegas casino magnate Adelson as a true believer, partly through the influence of his wife, there is no reason to assume that every super-wealthy Zionist donor does so from ideological reasons. No matter how profitable Israel itself is, there are plenty of carrots and sticks to motivate leaders of American enterprises to make tax-deductible donations to Israel.

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