This could be one of the most uncomfortable discussions for the Jewish community, but it demands a public forum.
Why are the leaders of the nation’s largest Jewish non-profits remaining silent about the link between the unprecedented financial support of the Trump administration by wealthy Jewish donors, especially those in the Republican Jewish Coalition, and the rise in anti-Semitic attacks that occurred during the Trump administration?
Based on Anti-Defamation League (ADL) statistics, there were more attacks in 2019 than in any other year since the ADL began tracking them in 1979. The report noted over 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism, and harassment.
Similar data was also in the FBI’s most recent Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) report, which said 2019 was “the deadliest year on record” with 51 hate crime murders, according to the ADL. This was a 113% increase over the previous record of 24 set in 2018. The FBI found this was the fourth increase in the past five years (ending in 2018), a time frame that overlaps with the Trump administration.
But these statistics did not happen in isolation.
During this same period, financial contributions by a few very wealthy American Jews were the largest single source of funds to Trump and his Republican Tea Party followers. These donations came from members of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and its top contributors: Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, Bernie Marcus, Jeffrey Yass, Paul Singer, Steven Schwarzman, and others in the RJC. During the Trump administration, the Adelson’s were Trump’s largest individual contributors, with $75 million in donations.
In practice, this meant that national Jewish groups were fundraising for ways to combat anti-Semitism, while at the same time, the Republican Jewish Coalition and its individual supporters, were vastly outspending these same groups to promote a president that was fostering anti-Semitism. Worse, this situation went on for the four years Trump was president.
Not only was this illogical, but it also illustrates the inter-connected and ethically compromised dance non-profits must do to raise money.
While Moses railed against the Golden Calf, the majority of contemporary Jewish leaders have to take Donations from whoever offers it.
Why Are the Top Jewish Leaders Silent?
So, given the links between Trump and white supremacists groups and the RJC, why haven’t many Jewish leaders criticized this deal with the devil?
Are they avoiding a public discussion about why wealthy Jewish mega-donors would give money to Trump, who has links to white supremacists, at the same time violent acts against Jews are taking place nationwide? Or, are these RJC contributions just another demonstration of political free speech that has no accountability?
There are some excellent reasons why the CEOs of top Jewish non-profits are silent. One is that they will offend the large donors who are their largest contributors. The second reason is the change in the structure of Jewish philanthropy of the past few decades. A third is to avoid a national Shanda that could create rifts and damage institutional and personal relationships.
(For more on how Jewish leaders went silent as the RJC financed trump, see the article on this site, “It’s Reckoning Time for Republican Jews Who Spent Millions Bolstering Trump.“)
Philanthropy is Big Business
Fundraising is a crucial CEO talent for a reason. The same large donors to the RJC are significant donors to national Jewish foundations and charities. Suppose a CEO addresses this link between the Jewish mega-donors and the rise in anti-Semitic attacks. In that case, it will hurt their ability to raise money and endanger their job security and advancement.
In the small, non-profit world, cultivating and fostering personal donor relationships is the key to advancement. As this table shows, being the head of a prominent Jewish organization is very lucrative. The average salary for the CEO of the top 10 Jewish non-profits is $681,724, according to a December 2017 article in the Jewish Forward.
At the everyday, operational level, this means fundraising activities are focused on the wealthiest people. There are certainly very charitable donors who are middle class, but they are not the main focus of big fundraisers. This makes the whole focus on wealthy people, and their most modern iteration, mega-donors.
The Organizational Change in Jewish Philanthropy
Since they arrived in the U.S., Jews have founded and funded charities at the local and national levels. In the late-1800s and early-1900s, Jews founded community organizations that raised money continuously and distributed money immediately to those in need. This included hospitals, orphanages, summer camps, food aid, and immigrant resettlement.
But in the mid-20th century, Jewish upward mobility and the expansion of federal social programs changed the focus of Jewish philanthropy. To remain viable, Jewish non-profits began to focus on an expanded menu of long-term plans. This altered the funding focus to targeting large donors and creating endowments. This made the new model of “philanthropic perpetuity.”
As Lila Corwin Berman, a professor at Temple University, wrote, “between the early 1960s and the mid-1970s, nationally, federation endowments grew from $62 million to $223 million.” Due to changes in the tax laws, this was accompanied by the formation of private foundations focused on Jewish issues.
But by the mid-1970s, donations from individuals and families began to decline. This was due to changes in the social networking structure, changes in Jewish self-identity, and intermarriage. A 1980 article by Steven Martin Cohen found that “several trends, then, lead to the expectation that today’s younger Jews will emerge less dedicated donors than their counterparts in the past.” This fundraising void had to be filled. The solution was the mega-donor.
Lousy Chemistry: Mixing Jewish Causes and Political Mega Donors
The mega-donors’ current problem in the RJC, including their blind support of Trump, all of his policies, including attacks on liberal Jewish Democrats, who account for about 78% of all Jewish voters. Still, this does not detract from the good works wealthy donors make to Jewish charitable and philanthropic causes.
But the political will and egos of wealthy people, just like the problems associated with big money in politics, tilts the power structure against average citizens.
In the case of the RJC’s pro-Trump financing, the accompanying rise in anti-Semitic attacks was bound to affect ordinary people more than the wealthy donors. This is what happened during the increase of anti-Semitic acts during the Trump presidency.
In many ways, creating a Frankenstein monster like the religious-political group that financed Trump, the Republican Jewish Coalition, was a disgrace to both Jewish values and the democratic political process.
But the collective egos of the RJCs membership made it impossible to consider alternatives. They needed their tax benefits, estate planning credits, special favors, public acclaim, and whatever requests their dark money demanded. And all these happened at the expense of average Americans.
However, if you read the case studies of anti-Semitic attacks during the past four years, you will see that they happened to everyday people going about their business. College students, couples on the way to the synagogue, insults in the classroom, people walking down the street or shopping. The victims of these anti-Semitic slurs or acts were all ordinary people who were hurt by wealthy donors who needed a political favor or were true believers in the Republican Tea Party philosophy.
Political Lobbying Has Nasty Consequences
In many ways, the RJC’s pro-Trump stance was the same as any other corporate lobbying group.
As Robert Reich said when referring to corporate lobbying, “For years, big corporations have been assaulting democracy with big money, drowning out the voices and needs of ordinary Americans and fueling much of the anger and cynicism that opened the door to Trump in the first place.”
The RJC used the same process to drown out the voices and safety requirements of ordinary Jewish Americans. The RJC also cultivated a rabid group of Jewish Republicans who ridiculed Jewish Democrats on line as being traitors, wimps, “libtards,” dupes of the liberal media and worse. Some of these fanatic followers were among the terrorists that attacked the Capitol on January 6. Simultaneously, the RJC never acknowledged the link between Trump, white supremacists, QAnon believers, Christian nationalists, and anti-Semitic groups. This was an intentional omission since they bragged about funding him and supporting his policies for years.
But after the nation witnessed the attack on the Capitol, it is time for the Republican Jewish Coalition to re-examine its purpose. They bet big and lost on Trump and his white supremacist, Christian nationalist party. They also must assume some responsibility for the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the U.S.
It also has become clear the RJC has no connection with generally-accepted traditional Jewish values and whatever narrow political policies they are advocating daily.
So maybe it’s time for the RJC to admit it is just a club for wealthy Jews who need an ego boost. The record shows that despite spending hundreds of millions on Trump, the RJC backed a sociopath. Worse, in their pursuit of pushing a right-wing political agenda, they are now endangering the physical and mental security of millions of average Jewish Americans.