1. Does it matter if your donors are Jewish?
There’s a foolproof way of knowing election season is here—just wait for someone to make a Jewish money reference. The tighter the race, the more likely you are to hear something along the lines of “outside donors” or “Wall Street money,” or just the casual listing of top donors, all of whom happen to be Jewish.
It’s not a phenomenon exclusive to either side of the political divide. (Remember Trump’s 2016 closing campaign ad that spoke about “those who control the levers of power” and showed piles of dollars? Remember how the only people depicted in it were George Soros, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, all of whom are Jewish?)
And it’s not even a notion reserved for election season. The idea of Jewish wealth wrongly impacting American politics is out there all the time, in many shapes and forms. (One more reminder: General Wesley Clark, who ran in 2004 for the Democratic nomination. A few years later accused “New York money people” of pushing America into war against Iran.)
This year, the issue recently came up in what could be the most contentious congressional race for the Jewish and the pro-Israel community: Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar’s reelection bid.
A little background: Omar, a progressive freshmen congresswoman and a member of “the Squad” is known for her harsh criticism of Israel, which includes support for BDS and conditioning military aid to Israel on its actions toward Palestinians. She also has a history of making offensive comments that managed to step on every anti-Semitic landmine, from claiming that Israel “hypnotized” the world, to tweeting about the “Benjamins” in reference to the role of big money influencing America’s policy toward Israel, to questioning the loyalty of pro-Israel Americans who “push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
So, no surprise that Omar is being very carefully watched by members of the Jewish community and pro-Israel activists. It’s also not that surprising to learn that out-of-state Jewish Americans who oppose her views on Israel are pouring money into the campaign of her rival in the Democratic primaries, Antone Melton-Meaux.
What is surprising is that Omar stepped in it again.
A mailer sent out to voters decried Melton-Meaux reliance on campaign donations from individuals representing specific interests, asking voters if they can “Trust Antone Melton-Meaux’s Money?”
This is a legitimate question in a congressional race. Do voters in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District want their representative to be somehow politically indebted to donors’ out-of-state interests?
But what triggered the angry reaction among some in the Jewish community wasn’t the question, but the names of donors Omar used as examples. Among all of Melton-Meaux’s campaign contributors, the pamphlet names Stanley Weinstein, Jonathan Gray and Seth Klarman. Yes, all three are Jewish.
Even if Omar’s campaign can be given the benefit of the doubt in assuming these three were not chosen to feature in the ad because of their Jewish faith, it is at least a sign of extreme negligence (especially for a candidate who is battling accusations of anti-Semitism) and of a clear lack of sensitivity.
After all, it shouldn’t be that hard for Omar or any other politician to avoid these types of controversies.
When issues of campaign finance come up, as they do during election season, just wait a second and take a good look at the ad you’re about to release: Are Jews the only ones named in the context of money and politics? Are Jewish symbols or names superimposed on piles of dollars? If so, it may be a good idea to revise the ad. Hundreds of years of painful history make these seemingly innocent references very offensive, even if the candidate or the campaign had no intention of pressing on anti-Semitic buttons.
If you choose not to double-check, then your campaign has rightly earned any resulting criticism.
2. How effective are the outside donations?
There’s nothing new about Jewish Americans donating to political causes beyond their proportionate part in American society. There’s also nothing wrong with members of a community pooling financial resources in order to advance their interests. (Most of Melton-Meaux funding has come from PACs, at least a quarter of them related to pro-Israel causes, while Omar has relied primarily on small donations. Both candidates have received a significant portion of their funding from out-of-state donors.)
But money, regardless of the source, is not always enough to win a race. Take a look at Omar’s primary opponent. Melton-Meaux has raised $3.2 million in the last quarter compared to Omar’s $471,000. As of now, Melton-Meaux has $2 million available in his war chest, and Omar has $1.1 million. But according to a poll commissioned by Omar’s campaign, the money did little to make Melton-Meaux a viable contender. The poll showed Omar holding a huge 37 point lead over Melton-Meaux. Now, again, this is not an independent poll and there are no reliable independent polls out there, but it does seem like a clear indicator that money, even that coming from out-of-state pro-Israel groups and individuals, isn’t all it takes.
Or take Rashida Tlaib, running for reelection in Michigan. She’s just as critical of Israel as Omar and has ruffled just as many feathers of pro-Israel Jewish donors. Tlaib, according to the latest poll, has a 52 to 24 percent lead over her primary rival Brenda Jones. In this case, there is no involvement of Jewish donors in backing Jones, who’s fundraising is lagging way behind Tlaib’s.
And speaking of pro-Israel Jewish money—how was it not enough to save Eliot Engel, arguably the lawmaker most supportive of Israel, from being defeated by progressive Jamaal Bowman?
The answer is simple: There are a lot of Jewish donors working for candidates who support their views and against those who don’t. In some cases in the past, such as the 2002 reelection bid of Georgia Democrat Cynthia McKinney, a massive mobilization of Jewish funders helped primary rivals drive her out of office, but that doesn’t mean that Jewish money—or any money— wins races. It doesn’t mean that American Jews will donate to any candidate running to defeat a politician they dislike, and it doesn’t mean that Jewish financial backing is enough to save a candidate whose constituency has grown tired of them.
3. Speaking of Jewish donors—Adelson opens his checkbook
On the Republican side, mega-donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson made a combined $25 million donation to the Senate Leadership Fund, a super-PAC controlled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell aimed at maintaining Republican control of the Senate.
In previous election cycles, the Adelsons gave around $100 million to federal political causes, so expect this to be only the first installment in the Adelsons’ drive to ensure Trump and the Republicans remain in power.
4. The Democratic Majority for Israel celebrate its platform victory
Speaking of money well spent, Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), the centrist pro-Israel super-PAC fighting to maintain the party’s status quo on Israel, registered a victory last week, as the Democratic Party’s platform moved forward with most of the language critical of Israel left out at the end of the deliberation process.
DMFI lobbied for keeping the current positions on Israel in the party’s platform, for ensuring unconditioned military aid to Israel, and for a language that put Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank in the broader context of “unilateral steps by either side.” The final language reflects many of these priorities while ceding to progressives only in expressing opposition to Israeli settlement expansion.
A DMFI poll conducted just before the platform debate, found that a large majority of Democrats want their party’s platform to remain as pro-Israel as it was in 2016.
5. Bipartisan funding, yes, that’s a thing
Sometimes, though not very often, support for funding crosses party lines, as was the case with an amendment added last week to the National Defense Authorization Act with bipartisan consent.
The amendment, authored by two Democrats—Florida’s Ted Deutch and New York’s Max Rose—increases funding for the office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism in order to help the envoy deal with the surge in anti-Semitism across the globe.
What makes this legislative move interesting is the fact that the current envoy, Elan Carr, is a Trump appointee who was accused of playing partisan politics. when he used his position to attack J Street for an ad depicting Trump surrounded by Jewish advisers, which Carr deemed anti-Semitic.
Deutch and Rose, two centrist Democrats, don’t view this issue as an obstacle, or perhaps they distinguish between domestic politics and the global war on anti-Semitism. “I’ve been proud to support Elan Carr,” Rose told Jewish Insider.