« One change we can begin to observe, though, is in the role of Jewish donors »

Phil Weiss (he’s behind the indispensable blog MondoWeiss, very critical of the United States’ pro-Israel policies) has repeated this often enough: the key factor behind the Jewish community’s influence in US politics is not so much electoral (although Jewish voters still play an important role in some swing states such as Florida) as financial – Jews figure prominently among the main donors of US politics. Since the US Supreme Court considered independent electoral expenditure from companies to be covered by the free speech rules of the US Constitution in a very controversial 2010 judgment (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission), the role of money donations in US politics, already huge, is set to expand further.

Witness then the following consideration on the role of Jewish donors post-Citizens United, from The Jewish Daily Forward:

This remaking of the campaign finance system will reshuffle our politics in ways that no one can yet predict. One change we can begin to observe, though, is in the role of Jewish donors. They’ve long been a mainstay of Democratic politics. Their footprint on the GOP side is traditionally smaller. The super PAC phenomenon is already boosting Jewish donors’ importance in the Republican Party by several orders of magnitude.

The Forward’s Josh Nathan-Kazis reported in March on Jewish giving to the biggest super PAC, the pro-Romney Restore Our Future, which had raised a total of $36 million at the time (as of April 23 it’s reached $52 million). At the time, he reported, Jews had provided about 10% of the PAC’s total revenues.

Moreover, he noted, several of the pro-Romney PAC’s Jewish donors were former Democratic donors who switched sides this year, presumably because of disenchantment with the president. If that continues and becomes a trend, it will have serious implications for the future.

Scanning the broader super PAC field, the impact is even more striking. Of 25 Republican super PAC donors who have given $1 million or more, four or five are Jewish (depending on whether you count Sheldon and Miriam Adelson separately, as the FEC and IRS do). The Adelsons, in fact, are the largest single donors in American politics, accounting for a total of $26.5 million in gifts in this campaign between the two of them and their three daughters. Most of their gifts, $21.5 million, went to the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future PAC. The other $5 million went to the pro-GOP Congressional Leadership Fund.

Three other Jewish GOP donors gave $1 million each: hedge fund operators Paul Singer and John Paulson to the pro-Romney PAC and bingo king Irving Moskowitz to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads. Another three Jewish donors gave between $1 million and $2 million each to Democratic super PACs: movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, real estate investor Amy Goldman and hedge fund operator James Simons.

This makes for a double-blow to the Democrats. On one hand, the super PACs’ potential benefit to Republicans seems incalculable. Only 10% of Forbes magazine’s 400 wealthiest American billionaires had given by late March. Another 360 wait to be tapped.

No less alarming, Republicans are faring better than Democrats among wealthy Jews (including those giving less than $1 million). That’s unprecedented.

And if Obama manages to make up the shortfall through small online donations, a feat he mastered in 2008, what are the implications for Jewish influence in the Democratic Party?

On the other hand, what if these new Jewish mega-donors become a force within the GOP? Most of them appear to be entrepreneurs and investors alienated by Obama’s fiscal policies. Many are outspokenly progressive on issues like abortion, gay rights and the environment. If they end up gaining the clout their donations suggest, then liberals might have to rethink their fear and loathing of the other party. Watch the money. (Forward.com)

What this portends for US politics in the Middle East, and on Palestine, is another matter – there are other constituencies to accommodate, such as the evangelical voters (pro-Israeli for religious reasons) and the oil lobby – not to mention the slump in US influence in the region evident during the 2011 Arab spring. More importantly, the cracks within the Jewish community are getting wider: apart from J-Street, seen as a liberal (in the US sense) competitor to AIPAC, the internal criticism of the blindly pro-Israel slant of US diplomacy in the Middle East has seldom been stronger, with even mainstream media talking heads – Thomas Friedman and Peter Beinart are the latest ones – stepping out of line. And many of the most vocal critics of Israel and supporters of the BDS movement are from within the Jewish community – Phil WeissGlenn GreenwaldMax BlumenthalNaomi Klein (she’s Canadian), not to mention Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, who are not in favour of BDS.

One last comment: one has to commend a Jewish community paper like Forward for writing such a candid article. You will not be reading anything resembling that in the NYT or the WaPo anytime soon – not to mention the European press, where the understandable reluctance to use themes  – such as that of « Jewish money » – regrettably reminescent of the 30’s has stifled even  descriptive, balanced and nuanced media work on the political role of some Jewish operators – in France for instance, more space is devoted to Muslim umbrella groups UOIF and CFCM, and less compunction is displayed when writing about them, than to their Jewish counterpart CRIF. Let’s hope an evolution is under way for casual discussion of issues related to Jews and Muslims, without falling into the twin traps of anti-semitism and islamophobia.

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Une Réponse

  1. Just because the Foreward tars all Jews as Zionists, doesn’t mean you should as well. That sets a trap for you. Now you’re an anti-semite for referring to Jews and « Jewish » money.
    Let them call themselves Jews; you call them Zionists.
    Fascists always refer to the people. All leaders do. Attack the leaders first.

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