by Shuki Sadeh, Haaretz
Some of them live in Israel, but most of them don’t. Some, but by no means all, have business interests in the country. Most give generously to right-wing causes, but there are a few exceptions, including those who give across the whole range of the political spectrum.
Here are profiles of a few of the biggest overseas contributors to Israel’s politicians, the people whose money will have a lot to do with who forms the next government and occupies the prime minster’s residence in Jerusalem.
Marc Belzberg, who immigrated to Israel in the 1990s from Canada, has given money to Likud figures Moshe Ya’alon, Gilad Erdan, Zeev Elkin and Yuli Edelstein. Belzberg inherited his wealth from his father, Samuel Belzberg, who built a financial and real estate empire with his brothers Hyman and William in Vancouver. Marc Belzberg was once linked by marriage to Matthew Bronfman, scion of another wealthy Canadian Jewish family.
Belzberg, who became religiously observant as a teenager, is identified with right-wing Israeli circles and the settlement movement, supporting the Ateret Hacohanim Yeshiva in Jerusalem ‘s Old City and serving as a director of The Jerusalem Post when it was controlled by Canada’s Hollinger Group.
In Israel he is involved in philanthropic activities, most notably the One Family fund, which helps terror victims and their families. He is also a major donor to Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, giving $1 million during one 2013 event. In business, he has invested in Israeli high-tech companies.
The “Bibi-Tours” investigation by journalist Raviv Drucker found that Belzberg paid, through One Family, for a 2007 London trip by Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara at a cost of $60,000. Drucker found that the costs included a car and driver for Sara Netanyahu.
Nily Falic and her sons Simon, Joel and Jerome, gave 180,000 shekels ($46,700) to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s primary campaign ahead of this year’s general election. In doing so the Miami family was giving a further vote of confidence in the man to whom they gave 165.000 shekels in 2012.
Netanyahu was not the only Likudnik to enjoy the family’s help. MKs Edelstein, Elkin, Erdan, Yariv Levin and Miri Regev were also beneficiaries, as was Avi Dichter when he belonged to the Kadima party. All told, the family contributed 280,000 shekels to Likud candidates in the recent party primary.
The family, which also donates to Republican candidates in the United States, owns Duty Free Americas, the biggest chain of duty-free stores in the United States and Latin America. Five years ago, a Panamanian company controlled by the family won an Israel Airports Authority tender to operate the duty-free shops at Ovda Airport, near Eilat. It’s a small airport now but will grow exponentially when it moves to bigger facilities in 2017.
Nily Falic is president of Friends of the IDF and set up its Miami branch. FIDF has emerged in recent years as the biggest source of private donations to the army, its gala benefits bringing top officers as guests.
Kenneth Abramowitz, 65, is one of the biggest American contributors to the Israeli right. Living in New York, he is chairman of the American Friends of the Likud and was once associated with Netanyahu’s secret “millionaires’ list” of donors to his 2007 primary election campaign.
Abramowitz is also a backer of Israel’s Media Watch, also known as the Association for the Public’s Right to Know, a right-wing group critical of the local media. Netanyahu’s sister-in-law Daphne Netanyahu is a member of the group’s board.
In politics, Abramowitz has donated to Ya’alon, Elkin and Ofir Akunis of Likud as well as Danny Danon. Abramowitz began his career as an equity analyst of medical companies and moved into private equity where he today is a partner of NGN Capital.
Charles Bronfman, a Canadian businessman and philanthropist identified with left-of-center causes, gave 11,000 shekels to the primary election campaign of venture capitalist and Labor Party MK Erel Margalit. In 2012 Bronfman donated to Tzipi Livni when she vied unsuccessfully with Shaul Mofaz for leadership of Kadima. Four years before that he gave money to Isaac Herzog and Yuli Tamir of the Labor Party.
Bronfman previously gave generously to Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Peace Now. Janet Aviad, the director of Keren Karev, the Israeli branch of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, was one of the founders of Peace Now. But Keren Karev has focused its funding on education and cultural projects, such as the renovation of Tel Aviv’s Charles Bronfman Auditorium, previously the Fredric R. Mann Auditorium. He is also a major donor to Taglit-Birthright Israel.
Charles and his brother Edgar are the sons of Samuel Bronfman, who built an alcoholic beverages empire after purchasing the Seagram distilleries. They have continued the family’s philanthropic and other activities. Charles briefly invested in Israel in the 1990s, when he bought control of Koor Industries together with Jonathan Kolber. His nephew, Matthew Bronfman, was cocontrolling shareholder of Israel Discount Bank for a decade before divesting it.
Michael Eisenberg, 43, a venture capitalist, was the first investor in Naftali Bennett’s startup, the antifraud-software company Cyota. When Cyota was sold in 2005 for $145 million, Bennett became a millionaire and moved on to a career in politics.
Eisenberg, a partner in the Aleph Fund, is well-known in Israeli high-tech circles. He immigrated to Israel in the early 1990s and lives in Jerusalem with his wife Yaffa and eight children. Over the years he has founded companies, represented Montgomery Securities in Israel and in 1997 established his first venture fund, Israel Seed Partners, which invested in Shopping.com before it was sold for $630 million.
Apart from Bennett, Eisenberg is close to political figures MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), Eldad Yaniv (Labor) and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who was a venture capitalist himself before entering politics. Eisenberg’s philanthropic activities are devoted to education issues.
Joseph Gutnick, a 62-year-old Australian businessman and mining industry entrepreneur, belongs to the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement. He first attracted headlines during the 1996 election season when he funded a campaign whose slogan was “Netanyahu is good for the Jews.” The campaign gave Netanyahu an edge over his rival, Peres.
During Netanyahu’s first government, Gutnik helped fund the controversial settlement of religious Jews in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras Al Amud. More recently, he gave 11,000 shekels to Shaked for her primary campaign in Habayit Hayehudi.
In the 1970s, after studying with the Lubavitcher rebbe in New York, Gutnik joined his in-laws in the textile business. By the end of the decade, after a sharp rise in the price of gold, he began trading in mining stocks on the Sydney stock exchange with borrowed money. He became a multimillionaire in the process and began investing directly in mines.
He suffered a big setback with the collapse of share prices in 1987 but quickly recovered.
His political activities in Israel began in the 1990s, when he was an emissary of Schneerson and campaigned to block any territorial concessions to the Palestinians. He is very close to right-wing circles; the visitor’s center of the Jewish settlement inside Hebron is named after him.