Ronald Lauder and iVoteIsrael

10.17.12

The Netanyahu-Republican Billionaire Behind That Israel Absentee Voter Push

Last week, Mairav Zonszein reported in these pages about a non-profit group seeking to get Americans in Israel to vote absentee in the upcoming presidential election. iVoteIsrael seemed to, despite protestations, have a partisan bent—toward Republicans—and may be running afoul of American election laws. 

Yesterday, a report on the Sunlight Foundation's website shed new light on the group—and who may be behind it. Nancy Watzman wrote that iVoteIsrael "appears to have ties to conservative billionaire Ronald S. Lauder, a supporter of Republican causes and of the hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu." In addition to other ties to Lauder, Sunlight discovered that iVoteIsrael's "corporate filings in Delaware show that the group lists the same Manhattan address as that used by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation."

Watzman goes on:

Heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics fortune, Lauder served as ambassador to Austria under President Ronald Reagan. He's the current president of the World Jewish Congress, and, Sunlight's Influence Explorer shows, is a reliable donor to Republican candidates and parties and conservative causes in the U.S. [...] He provided the initial funding in the mid-1990s for the Shalem Center, a think tank associated with right-leaning and necon viewpoints in Israel. He owns a large chunk of Israel's Channel 10 News, and has plans to launch an English language Israeli news site.

Lauder has long been a supporter of Netanyahu, and according to the Israeli paper Haaretz, is one of his leading donors, although the two men had a cooling off and then rekindling of their relationship recently.

Watzman also links Americans for Jerusalem—the parent organization of the iVoteIsrael project—to One Jerusalem, a group dedicated to keeping Jerusalem undivided. One Jerusalem gives hundreds of thousands to conservative American and Israeli groups, including Citizens United and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a group headed by longtime Netanyahu associate Dore Gold.

Americans for Jerusalem is also linked to Secure America Now, according to Sunlight. "Americans for Jerusualem appears to be connected as well to another nonprofit organization, Secure America Now, which on Monday launched an ad in the swing state of Ohio charging that the Obama administration supports the Muslim Brotherhood," wrote Watzman. Secure America Now is also running anti-Obama ads in Florida that feature videos of Netanyahu talking about Iran, belying the Prime Minister's insistence that he wasn't butting into U.S. elections.

So a major Netayahu-backer and Republican donor, with a long record of supporting neoconservative causes, might be funding an effort to whip up absentee ballots from Israel. I'm sure there're no partisan interests there, though.