More than 90 per cent of the recent campaign contributions collected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came from the US, official records show. In previous campaigns, around half of his campaign funding has come from just three American families.
Mr Netanyahu last week easily won his Likud Party’s election to select a prime ministerial candidate – easily overcoming his nearest challenger, former deputy defence minister Danny Danon. The 65-year-old Mr Netanyahu is now gearing up for the general election, due to be held on March 17.
Records from Israel’s State Comptroller Office and collated by Buzzfeed.com show that Mr Netanyahu raised around 1m shekels (roughly £166,000), for his primary campaign. Around 90 per cent of this came from the US.
Public records show this fits with previous elections campaigns. In the past, almost half of his funding has come from three American families – the Falic family of Florida which owns the Duty Free Americas airport shops, the Schottenstein family, owners of the American Eagle Outfitters fashion chain, and the Book family of New Jersey, owners of Jet Support Systems.
“Thank you, rich Americans,” said Yonatan Benizri, a 27-year-old Likud Party activist recently told Buzzfeed. “Why get money from Israel when you can get it from the US?”
Reports say US money to the campaign of the thrice-elected Mr Netanyahu is channelled via the American Friends of Likud group. The group, which has its headquarters in New York, failed to respond to inquiries, as did the main offices of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud Party in Israel.
The data shows that the members of the Falic family of Florida have been among the most consistent donors to Mr Netanyahu’s campaign. Four members of that family were his top contributors, with each giving close to the maximum of $11,500 per donor. Closely following them were the Book family of New Jersey, with four members each contributing $11,000. Four members of the Schottenstein gave $10,000 each.
The three families failed to respond to inquiries made on Thursday.
The foreign funding of elections is a controversial issue in Israel and contributions are not permitted for the general election campaign. Ilan Peleg, a professor at Lafayette College, Pennsylvania, and a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Wasington DC, said “This has been going on for a number of years.”
Menachem Hofnung, the Herbert Samuel Professor of Political Science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told The Independent that Mr Netanyahu had worked hard to maintain a network of supporters in the US over the past 25 years. “Israel allows donations for the primaries, but not for the national election,” he said.
A recent poll suggested Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party had pulled ahead of the centre-left coalition formed by Labour leader Isaac Herzog and Hatnua head Tzipi Livni for the first time since the opposition alliance was formed. According to a survey conducted by TNS, Likud would receive 25 projected seats, while Labour-Livni were on 24. Bayit Yehudi is the third largest party with 15 seats.
Brothers Leon, Simon and Jerome Falic purchased what is now Duty Free Americas, Inc, the largest duty-free operator in the United States, in 2001. The brothers also own the French fashion design house Christian Lacroix and the license to distribute Perry Ellis brand fragrances and cosmetics. Their mother, Nily Falic, is the chair of Friends of the Israeli Defence Force, a New York-based organisation that raises funds for the Israeli army. Simon Falic’s wife, Jana, is co-president of the Women’s International Zionist Organistion, Israel’s largest non-governmental service provider. The three Falic brothers and 12 of their family members have made 682 political donations to politicians including ranging from Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Eric Cantor and Charles Schumer, according to the JTA.org website. All four politicians – three Republicans and one Democrat - have voiced strong support of Israel. In 2012, the Falics donated $45,000 to Mr Netanyahu's campaign.
For three generations, the Schottenstein family of Columbus, Ohio, has ruled over a retailing empire that includes brands such as American Eagle Outfitters and DSW shoes. The family firm began in 1917, when the family’s Lithuanian-born patriarch Ephraim Schottenstein amassed enough money from selling goods out of a horse-drawn cart to open the first Schottenstein department store. Today, the company has more than 20,000 stores nationwide and is worth an estimated $3bn. In 2007, two sisters of Jay Schottenstein, the chairman of Schottenstein Stores Corp, sued him for improper use of family trust funds. Mr Schottenstein, who has denied the allegations, is also a well-known corporate executive who was once nominated to be one of Time’s 100 most influential people by Ohio basketball star LeBron James. The non-profit Saul Schottenstein Foundation awards grants to dozens of Jewish organisations.
The Book family heads Jet Support Systems, Inc., the largest aircraft maintenance company in the world. Company chairman Robert Book is also the chairman of his own private equity firm and the Franklin Mint, a private mint in Philadelphia that produces collectible coins and medallions. In 1998, the Franklin Mint was sued by the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund which alleged it had produced Diana merchandise without a proper license. Eventually the matter was settled out of court with the fund paying $21.5mn (£14.2m) to charitable causes.