July 28, 2021

The two Jewish billionaires who love Israel but hate Trump

JTA – “Israel and American Jewish organizations need to be more aware of a growing trend of frustration within the Trump administration, as the pro-Israel initiatives undertaken by the president (in particular the transfer of the Embassy of Jerusalem) have not been appreciated by large segments of the American Jewish community, ”says a report produced by a group known for its ties to the elites of Israel and those of the United States.

President Donald Trump would like to see more recognition for his pro-Israel policies. It has become the Trump anomaly: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained that the relationship between the United States and Israel has never been so close.

Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, maintained its levels of aid to Israel’s defense while cutting US funding everywhere else. He withdrew the United States from the Iran deal hated by Netanyahu and stopped paying aid to the Palestinians.

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The division of Jews over these initiatives is, on the one hand, not surprising: The majority of American Jews usually vote for the Democratic Party, and the 20% of Jews – mostly Orthodox and right-wing – who vote Republican, however, are more to the left of Netanyahu and his government.

And this trend was made clear when two Jewish billionaires let it be known that, unlike what they had done so far, they would not be backing Republicans but Democrats ahead of the midterm elections. Seth Klarman and Les Wexner seem to signal that a bellicose pro-Israel agenda cannot justify the damage they say Trump has done to America and its democratic institutions.

Secretary of State Steve Mnuchin and Ivanka Trump unveil the plaque during the inauguration of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018 (AFP / Menahem KAHANA)

The changes of course of Seth Klarman and Les Wexner are serious. They announce that more than any midterm election in recent memory, the date of November 6 may well change the course of the current presidency.

If the US House of Representatives goes over to the Democrats, Trump could face a procedure ofimpeachment. If the chamber and the senate escape him, his agenda will be officially dead.

How to understand the scope of these changes? Here are two personalities studied in the light of pro-Israel policies, their Republican sensibility and the distance they have taken from Trump and his policies.

Klarman, 61, is a manager of a Boston-based investment fund with estimated income of $ 1.5 billion. His investment advice is considered so sound that Margin of Safety, a book he wrote in 1991 and is now out of print, fetched a whopping $ 950 on Amazon.

Klarman’s interest in Israel appears relatively recent – none the less strong. Born out of his concerns about terrorism following the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, he visited the country and was convinced that Israel was treated ruthlessly in the press. This led him to donate money to pro-Israel media observatories like CAMERA and MEMRI. Then, in 2012, he financed the online information site of the Times of Israel headed by the former editor-in-chief of Jerusalem Post, David Horovitz.

“Because I have been studying the history of anti-Semitism for a very long time, I know that this blind hatred is never the fault of the Jews,” he said at the time. “Moreover, it is clear to me that anti-Zionism is simply the most recent form of anti-Semitism. When the Jewish state is stigmatized by criticism above all others, as is the case at the United Nations, it is anti-Semitism ”.

If the launch of Times of Israel has represented a slight shift to the left – Horovitz, like Klarman, is a critic of the settlement movement – Klarman remains steadfastly loyal to the pro-Israel mainstream.

Klarman never appreciated Trump. While he has been giving Republicans money for a long time, he supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race while funding Republican candidate campaigns in Congress.

“His words and actions over the past few days are so unacceptable and shocking in our plural and democratic society that it is simply unthinkable that Donald Trump could become our president,” Klarman said in August 2016.

The trigger for this was Trump’s assertion that the election – where Clinton was a favorite – was “rigged” anyway.

If Klarman has never had his card to the Republican Party, he has in the past supported candidates and deputies from this formation.

This is no longer the case. The priority today is to thwart Trump, he said in an interview with Bari Weiss, editor of the Opinions page of the New York Times. And he accused Republican MPs of not opposing the president.

“People have to ask: Why are we writing checks on behalf of these people, who are cowards? “, he said.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez photographed by Jesse Korman, October 20, 2017 (Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

Klarman even has pleasant words about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, nominated in New York to run for Congress, a Democratic socialist who has yet had harsh words towards Israel.

“In many ways, I’m finally excited to see someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez come forward because it allows people of color and different people to be able to speak up and participate in things,” he explains. -he.

Leslie Wexner, 81, is a fashion mogul from Columbus, Ohio. Until he left the party, he was considered the richest Republican in his state with an estimated fortune of $ 4.7 billion.

Through the foundation that bears his name, Wexner has long supported a series of programs aimed at developing a leadership pro-Israel among Jewish adolescents, adults, volunteers and community professionals. He is also a founding financier of Birthright-Taglit, the program paying for trips to Israel for young Jews, and a major donor to the Ohio Jewish Federations.

Like Klarman, Wexner was never really won over by Trump. He funded the latter’s most bitter rival in the 2016 Republican primaries, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. His wife, Abigail, for her part supported the governor of Ohio, John Kasich, also an opponent of Trump.

Last year, when Trump procrastinated in condemning a neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia, Wexner told his employees at L Brands – a group he heads – that he felt “dirty” and “Ashamed” when he thought of the president.

But unlike Klarman, Wexner has always been an irrevocably Republican. He accompanied President George W. Bush during his visit to Israel in 2008 on the occasion of the country’s 60th anniversary.

And he spoke harshly when he explained his reasons for quitting the party and now becoming an independent, speaking last week at a Columbus Civic Citizenship event sponsored by the Columbus Partnership, a commercial and civic group that he chairs. Like Klarman, he said he was tired of Republicans failing to oppose Trump.

“I don’t support this nonsense within the Republican Party,” Wexner said. “I have been a Republican since college, I joined the young Republicans club in the state of Ohio.”

And like Klarman with Ocasio-Cortez, Wexner has ventured into territory hitherto unthinkable for a Republican, praising former President Barack Obama.

“I was struck by the man’s authenticity, his kindness, his humility and his empathy towards others,” Obama’s Wexner said.

Much of the news coverage of Klarman and Wexner’s change of course has focused on their disaffection with Trump but a few observers have said they may be keenly aware of how Trump’s Israeli policies divide. the Jews.

“The implicit message here is that Wexner and Klarman have both shined in exceptional ways in supporting transformative Jewish community initiatives,” tweeted Shalom Lipner, former Netanyahu adviser who now works at the Center for Middle East Politics. of the Brooking Institute.

“That they are severing their ties with Republicans because of Trump says a lot about how they perceive his impact on Israel and the Jewish community.”

In contrast, Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition said loyal Republicans will ultimately reward the administration for supporting Netanyahu.

“Very few are neutral with the Trump administration,” Brooks told Haaretz. “It is not surprising that some Republican Party donors have decided not to give any more money.”

“Nevertheless, we also see that there are many donors and others who are significantly increasing their support for Republicans due to the strong pro-Israel actions of this president, including the transfer of the embassy, ​​the end of the agreement. on nuclear and the cut in funding “for the Palestinians.