L.A.’s financial support of Israel’s election
The Los Angeles dollars—or shekels—spent may not have approached the amount Hollywood throws around for U.S. elections, but Jews in Los Angeles nevertheless managed to funnel about $175,000 into Israel’s party primaries this election cycle.
Israel’s primaries ended in January with Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu blowing out his rival Danny Danon, and Labor’s Isaac Herzog soundly defeating Shelly Yachimovich under the Zionist Union coalition, in which Labor is paired with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah. Israeli campaign finance law forbids foreign donations during the general parliamentary election—scheduled for March 17—but allows for very limited contributions during the primary season.
In this election’s primaries, Israeli candidates raised about $1.4 million in the United States, with New York donors contributing more than in any other state. In Los Angeles, candidates raised about $162,000, or 11 percent of the national total. And of that, Likud candidates—primarily Netanyahu and Danon—dominated the fundraising field, taking in nearly $124,000, or 70 percent of the total.
Netanyahu led the pack among the candidates, raising about $42,000 in Los Angeles; Danon brought in about $34,000, and other Likud candidates including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein and Gilad Arden raised between about $11,000 and $15,000.
The only politician outside Likud to top $10,000 was Nahman Shai, a member of the Labor party and the Knesset’s Deputy Speaker, who raised more than $15,000. Abraham Dichter of Kadima raised about $8,000.
The campaign finance data, which is publically available on the Israeli comptroller’s website, shows that nearly 40 people in the Greater Los Angeles area sent funds to Israeli candidates this round, with most donations ranging in the thousands of dollars, and only a handful topping $10,000. Although the donations logged by the comptroller online date back to January 2013 at the earliest, the vast majority of the contributions came in late 2014 and early 2015, and were applied to candidates who ran in this election cycle’s party primaries.
Lawrence Feigen, an executive at Windsor Healthcare Rehabilitation, gave about $14,500 to three different candidates, all Likud—Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Edelstein. According to Federal Election Commission data, Feigen’s U.S. political donations over the years have been to both Democratic and Republican politicians and groups, including Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.), and current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK).
Feigen wrote to the Journal in an email that he’s been donating his money and time for decades to causes he believes in, including American and Israeli politics. “I generally (although certainly not always) agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s views,” Feigen wrote. Asked whether he knows if his political donations have made a difference, he responded: “I honestly have no idea what kind of impact my donations possibly can make. I hope they help.”
Shlomo Rechnitz, the local mega-philanthropist who for a brief time owned Doheny Meats in 2013, which he purchased as an attempt to rectify the kosher meat company after it was wracked with scandal, confirmed to the Journal that he gave about $11,500 to Netanyahu. Rechnitz too has given to a number of both Democratic and Republican politicians and groups, including former Congressman Henry Waxman, Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and a joint fundraiser for Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).
Other notable local donors include Adam Milstein, a co-founder of the Israeli American Council; Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation; real estate businessman and philanthropist Stanley Black; and Steve Goldberg, who ran an unsuccessful campaign last year to replace Mort Klein as the president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), and donated $4,000 to Danon’s campaign in January.
Goldberg was on the ZOA’s national board from 2008 to 2014 and became the board’s vice chair in 2010. He was also the head of ZOA’s Los Angeles chapter until its closure in 2014. On Monday, Goldberg was in Israel for the election. He recently became a dual citizen, and because Israel’s voting laws prohibit absentee ballots, Goldberg was among the Israeli citizens who flew there from the United States just to vote—in Goldberg’s case for Netanyahu, whom he initially opposed in favor of Danon in Likud’s party primaries.
“I found Danon to be courageous,” Goldberg said, referring to Danon’s outspoken opposition to Netanyahu’s handling of the Gaza war last summer. “He spoke up, put himself in political peril and risked his career.”
Peter Medding, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem with expertise in Israeli politics, said that the amount candidates raised for the primaries in Los Angeles were “just symbolic” and said that, as in an American election, $175,000 has very little impact.
“It’s peanuts here too,” Medding said. Asked whether the $42,000 that went to Netanyahu could have any discernible impact, he said it would not. He added, though, that in party primaries, name recognition is a key factor for lesser-known candidates who need to pay for television ads across the country. Danny Danon, for example, who remains a vocal Netanyahu opponent yet has failed thus far to gain enough traction within Likud to become one of its leaders, nearly matched Netanyahu’s fundraising in Los Angeles. It didn’t help, though, in his bid to represent Likud in the general election.
For Netanyahu, on the other hand, visibility is not a problem.
“The amount of money that [Sheldon] Adelson spends on newspapers that promote Bibi every morning exceeds that by a function of 50 or 100,” Medding said, referring to Israel Hayom, the free daily funded by Adelson that is pro-Netanyahu.
Although the money Israeli candidates raised from Los Angeles for this year’s election cycle may ultimately prove inconsequential, Angelenos are sure to continue to be a source of funds for aspiring and established Israeli politicos.
“Los Angeles has been a good collection area for Israeli candidates,” Medding said. “There are generous donors there. People are used to giving money to political campaigns; they give to Israel as well as to Waxman.”
And for local Jews like Goldberg who are passionate about Israel, although a few thousand dollars here or there may not prove to change much, and represents only a “modest commitment”, it’s a commitment nonetheless.
“If there are people I believe in, I’ll do whatever I can to help,” Goldberg said. “One of those ways is money.”