The New War Between the Jews: How Jewish Oligarchs Will Be Part of Any Trump Presidential Administration

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Rhetorical disputes and even violent attacks between Jewish groups are not new in the 3,000-year-old history of the Jewish civilization.

From the wars during the periods of the united and divided monarchies of Israel and Judah (circa 1000-586 BCE) to the gun battles between Haganah and the Irgun in 1948, Jews have resorted to the entire range of actions, including violence, to settle disputes.

But the current presidential campaign by Donald Trump has re-ignited a new, modern political battle between American Jews that is as pointed and biting as any in history.

The current war between the Jews is ideological and related to privilege, self-interests, and economic class.  This conflict is not especially religious.  It pits a numerically small number of Jewish billionaires who support Trump against the millions of American Jews, 80% of whom are Democrats.

It is also not primarily about the current state of Israeli politics.  However, support for the right-wing policies of the Netanyahu government plays a role for some donors; it is not the focal point of the dispute.

Instead, the new war between American Jews hinges on a handful of pro-Trump political action committees (PACs) and wealthy individual donors. These wealthy people are using their considerable contributions to push Trump into the presidency despite his long history of trafficking and entertaining white nationalists and pro-Nazi-groups.

In the process, these wealthy Jews want to become the nation’s first oligarchs. Using their political positions buttressed by huge donations, they will be closest to the trough when Trump decides to sell favors, contracts, access, tax benefits (including the valuable carried interest tax loophole), and regulatory relief to the most favored donors if he becomes president.

Since cash is king in Trump’s world, being close to Trump through the donation pipeline will make the Jewish Republican billionaires into American oligarchs.  In the process, they will be working against the interests of their brethren as they ignore Trump’s favoritism to right-wing policies that victimize immigrants, the less fortunate, minorities, and women as he pushes a Christian-oriented conservative agenda.

Who Will Become American Oligarchs

The big donors’ names and affiliations with Republican Jewish groups, such as the Republican Jewish Coalition and Jewish Republicans of Nevada, are well-known.

At the individual level, the big donors come mainly from the world of finance (hedge funds, private equity, real estate development) and gambling.  These are regulated industries the billionaires must tolerate even though they restrain their money-making deal opportunities.  Trump is their man because he will cut regulations and through in the added favor of cutting taxes.

Plus, as Trump said during a meeting in April in Florida, he will be willing to kill regulations and offer tax benefits in exchange for $1 billion in donations to roll back environmental regulations for the oil and gas industry.  This blatant solicitation of favors in exchange for money is the fertile ground to create a new class of American oligarchs.

The wealthy Republican donors are the stars of Wall Street.  Howard Lutnick (Cantor Fitzgerald, net worth $1.5 billion); Bernie Marcus (Home Depot, co-founder, net worth $8.6 billion); William Albert Ackman (net worth $9.3 billion); Stephen Schwarzman (co-founder of Blackstone, net worth $41 billion); Barry Sternlicht (Starwood Capital, net worth $3.8 billion); Steve Mnuchin  (former US Treasury Secretary); David Oliver Sacks, (co-founder of PayPal, net worth $1.7 billion); Larry Ellison (Oracle, net worth $31 billion); Paul Singer (Elliott Investment Management, net worth $6 billion); Leonard Blavatnik (Warner Music Group, net worth $31 billion); and Dr. Miriam Adelson (widow of Sheldon Adelson, with a net worth of $34 billion).  Adelson said she will contribute $100 million to Trump’s campaign.

Jewish Oligarchs in Russia

While the potential appointment of Jewish American oligarchs will open a new tawdry chapter in American Jewish history, there is a long list of Jewish oligarchs who have emerged from the turmoil in Russia to become some of the wealthiest people in the world.  But the price they paid is significant.

The Jewish Russian oligarchs owe their entire fortune to Vladimir Putin, who is reportedly the wealthiest person in the world but has naturally kept his fortune hidden as only a KGB agent can do.  Putin is reportedly close to Jewish billionaires Roman Abramovich and Lev Leviev.  But, all of the oligarchs operate at Putin’s whim, and if they fail to pay homage or make a required deposit, their lives will be in danger.

Russian oligarchs, like their American counterparts, are in industries re-assigned from Russian state properties to a portfolio of privileged, loyal individuals, regardless of their business knowledge.

The Russian Jewish oligarchs are:

  1. Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky was the head of Yukos Oil Company. He was arrested in 2003 and spent several years in prison on charges widely viewed as politically motivated.
  2. Roman Abramovich: Abramovich made his fortune in the oil industry, mainly through the Sibneft company, which he later sold to Gazprom. He also owns the Chelsea Football Club.
  3. Leonid Nevzlin: A former Yukos executive and close associate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Nevzlin fled to Israel in 2003.
  4. Boris Berezovsky: An influential political figure and businessman in the 1990s, Berezovsky was involved in various industries, including media and oil. He lived in exile in the UK from 2000 until he died in 2013.
  5. Vladimir Gusinsky: Gusinsky was a prominent media executive who faced legal challenges and left Russia in the early 2000s, spending time in Israel and Spain.
  6. Viktor Vekselberg: An aluminum and energy industrialist, Vekselberg is the chairman of Renova Group and is known for his extensive collection of Fabergé eggs.

While the established Russian and emerging American Jewish oligarchs came into their fortunes differently, they also have made significant cash contributions and engaged in philanthropy to their respective Jewish communities in Russia, the US, and Israel.

This puts a different light on their activities.  On the one hand, they do business with Putin and contribute to Trump, but they also have a charitable side or at least one that recognizes the tax benefits of philanthropy.

Billionaires Like Trump, Even Though Trump Works With Anti-Semites

The difference with the American oligarchs is that their support of Trump is visible at the same time Trump meets with white supremacists and nationalists, who do not hide their dislike of Jews.

This was dramatically played out during the early years of Trump’s presidency when two Jewish members of the Trump team left after Trump famously said there were good people” on both sides of the white nationalist rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

When Trump defended the Nazis at the rally Gary Cohn, then the Director of the National Economic Council, resigned in March 2018.  Cohn’s cover story was that he left over disagreements with Trump’s trade policies, particularly tariffs on steel and aluminum, but his later comments fleshed out the resignation story.

Similarly, Reed Cordish, an assistant to the president for intergovernmental and technology initiatives, resigned in February 2018.  Cordish’s departure was reportedly for personal reasons.  Still, it came amid a broader wave of resignations and departures from the administration and may have been tied to Trump’s defense of the white supremacists.

When Cohn left his position, he said, “Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK.  I believe this administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions in our communities.”

Cohn added, “As a Jewish American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting ‘Jews will not replace us’ to cause this Jew to leave his job.”

These resignations were in contrast to the actions of other Jewish members of Trump’s administration, such as Steve Mneuchin, who defended Trump’s defense of the Charlottesville rioters.

When Good Jews Support Bad People

When wealthy people back a political leader, they do so for various reasons, which reflect their personal goals, personality flaws, political atmosphere, and conscience.

In the past, Jews have supported fascist dictators for reasons that historians say look untethered or naïve.  In Italy, a few wealthy Jews supported Benito Mussolini and his Fascist regime.  Aldo Finzi, a prominent Jewish lawyer and politician, was one of Mussolini’s earliest supporters.  He became a member of the Fascist Grand Council and held various governmental positions until his fall from grace in the mid-1920s.  Giorgio Del Vecchio, a philosopher and jurist, held academic and governmental positions under the Fascist regime.  Margherita Sarfatti, an art critic who was also Mussolini’s mistress, helped shape Fascist cultural policies.  She used her position to promote Italian art and culture in alignment with Fascist ideals.

In Germany, there were very few Jews or Jewish groups who Hitler fooled.  One exception was the small group, the Association of German National Jews (Verband nationaldeutscher Juden).  This organization was led by Max Naumann, who proposed that Jews should assimilate and show their loyalty to Germany, even under Nazi rule.  Naumann believed Jews could gain acceptance by showing their patriotism and loyalty to the nation.  This meant that German Jews should denounce any political ideology that conflicted with German nationalism, such as Zionism and Marxism.  The Nazis had a different opinion and rejected the idea that Jews could ever be Aryan Germans.

In 1935, the Nazis shut down the Association as part of their vicious campaign to eliminate Jewish influence and presence in Germany.  That same year, Naumann was arrested by the Gestapo and briefly imprisoned.  He was released, then re-arrested in 1939, and interned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp.  He was eventually released, but he died in May 1939, probably as a result of the treatment he received in the concentration camp.

Bad Comparisons Still Contain a Message

Of course, comparisons between the genocidal authoritarian.  Fascist movements that led to WWII do not apply to today, but sometimes well-meaning people get entangled with sociopaths for a variety of complex motives.

Trump’s history speaks for itself.  He embraces authoritarianism nationalism and encourages the erosion of democratic norms.  His associations with white supremacists are well known.  So, given all this, why would wealthy Jews contribute millions to his campaign?

Greed, avarice, ego, self-advancement, profiteering, and power are the engines of this membership.

But at the same time, some in this elite group have made very positive contributions through their philanthropy.  While some of this may be done for tax purposes, it also has a more extended history, even if it is unknown to the donors.  Talmudic law includes extensive discussions on the ethical and legal responsibilities of the wealthy toward the less fortunate.

These responsibilities are rooted in the broader Jewish legal and moral framework, which emphasizes justice (tzedek), kindness (chesed), and communal responsibility, including the responsibilities of the wealthy toward the larger Jewish community.

This includes the concept of arevut, which holds that all Jews are responsible for one another.  This principle is derived from the Talmudic teaching “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh,” which translates to “All of Israel are responsible for each other.” This has a double meaning in day-to-day life.  This mutual responsibility includes economic support, spiritual well-being, and protection from harm.

It also covers damaging the community’s reputation.  The idea of Shanda happens when Jews publicly violate the law and receive public condemnation and punishment.  Unfortunately, in the era of “greed is good,” many Jews have been convicted of white-collar crimes or flirted on the edge of bad business practices but have escaped legal punishment.

The Shanda stigma may seem archaic and outdated in modern society, where Jews comprise every level of political affiliation, religious observance, and lifestyle in a dispersed global contemporary society.  Still, as a totem of tribal affiliation, and regardless of religious identity and observance, the impact of public transgressions by individual Jews does not go unnoticed by the greater Jewish community.

Maybe that’s why one of the first questions asked in the afterlife is whether a person conducted their business faithfully (the Talmud, Shabbat 31a).  If Trump wins or loses, it looks like many wealthy Jews may be asked this question in the next world.

 

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