Your Daily Phil: New book chronicles American Jewish ‘Checkbook Zionism’

Good Thursday morning. 

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a new book by Pennsylvania State University professor Eric FleischCheckbook Zionism, about American Jewry’s relationship with Israel, and feature an opinion piece by Avrum Lapin about how philanthropy needs to adapt in a post-Oct. 7 world. Also in this newsletter: Tomer PersicoShira Ruderman and Matthew C. Levin. We’ll start with a recent appearance by Marc Rowan on the Israeli VC firm Aleph’s podcast.

Marc Rowan, the CEO of Apollo Global Management who has emerged as a leading voice of the donor-class against antisemitism on college campuses, described the anti-Israel protests at universities across the country as having less to do with Israel and the Jews than with “anti-Americanism,” reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

“It’s not antisemitism. It is anti-Americanism,” he said on the Aleph venture capital firm’s latest podcast, which aired yesterday. “We are in the middle of a takeover of our elite academic institutions by a dominant narrative that you can call post-colonial education: Oppressed versus oppressor, powerful or powerless,” said Rowan, who successfully led a group of University of Pennsylvania alumni threatening to withhold donations unless the school removed its president, Liz Magill, and board of trustees chair, Scott Bok.

In the hour-long interview, which also focused on Rowan’s philanthropic interests, his views on Israel and its relationship with the United States and his investment strategies, the CEO and chair of UJA-Federation of New York called for the Jewish community to “exact the price” for antisemitism.

“There’s been no price to pay for being an antisemite,” he said. “These kids who are marching [at anti-Israel demonstrations], they don’t think about it because there’s been no price to pay. But if you come to Apollo, I would not hire you if you were anti-Black. I wouldn’t hire if you were anti-gay. I wouldn’t hire you if you were anti-anything. Why would I hire an antisemite?”

“One positive side effect of [the Oct. 7 attacks is that] the Jewish community in the U.S. is off the sidelines. They are engaged and now they just need to be directed,” he said.

Rowan said he was in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, when the Oct. 7 attacks took place. He was critical of both the U.S. and Israel for their conduct over the course of the conflict, beginning with feeling embarrassed that Hamas was able to carry out the Oct. 7 attacks in the first place.

“I was embarrassed, actually, to think that a failure of this scale could happen, particularly in the south where the people already feel neglected,” he said. “As a proud supporter of the State of Israel, as someone who looks to the IDF and to what Israel does, the notion that a group of amateurs could cause damage of the scale was embarrassing and then tragic.”

Without blaming anyone in particular, Rowan said that Israel quickly lost global sympathy and found itself accused of genocide and facing a large protest movement. “The world was on Israel’s side,” he said. “Israel had carte blanche to come in and do this, and [the fact that seven months] later we have lost the narrative is just insane.”

Rowan, who recently spoke at a fundraiser for Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who is seen as being on the short list of potential Republican vice presidential candidates, said the upcoming election may hinge on Israel and whether its war against Hamas amounts to genocide.

“That’s not a great thing for the president and that pushes the president to be tough on Israel, which actually undermines Israel’s leverage with hostage negotiations. It undermines its leverage with Hezbollah. It undermines its potential discussions with Saudi [Arabia],” Rowan said.

Yet when asked by Aleph co-founder Michael Eisenberg who should do more to resolve tensions between Israel and the U.S., Rowan indicated the former. “The onus right now is on the Israeli government to take steps, to not tell Biden ‘no’ at every turn. [Israel should] appreciate the position that [Biden] is in, which is a political position, and do that which is necessary to garner support for what needs to be done,” he said, clarifying that was destroying Hamas.

Rowan stressed the closeness that American Jews felt toward Israel, noting that in a normal year his New York federation raises roughly $250 million, but this year — in response to the Oct. 7 attacks — it will likely raise $450 million.

“What’s the importance of the Jewish state? We find it every day. It’s our refuge,” he said.

Read the full report here.


New book considers the role of American Jews — and their money — in the Zionist cause

A Jewish National Fund tzedaka box.
A Jewish National Fund tzedaka box. Flickr

It’s evident on nearly every ambulance, university building, museum wing, concert venue, forest, community center and hospital ward in Israel and in the “our donors” section of almost all Israeli nonprofits: Checkbook Zionism. Since before the foundation of the State of Israel, American Jews have been raising money for the Zionist project and having ideas about how to spend it. This is the topic of Pennsylvania State University professor Eric Fleisch’s new book, Checkbook Zionism: Philanthropy and Power in the Israel-­Diaspora Relationship, which was published in February by Rutgers University Press, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

American Jews’ role: The fundamental tension surrounds the issue of how involved American Jews should be in what happens in Israel. This is both on a loftier, philosophical level — how much the State of Israel belongs to all Jews versus the Israelis living there — and on a more practical level — do American Jews know enough about the country to have a well-informed opinion that should be taken seriously.

Knowing enough: Fleisch quotes Israeli fundraisers and nonprofit leaders who see their funders as both uninformed and uninterested in being informed of the realities in Israel, preferring instead to believe in a “mythology that reflects less what Israel is and more what they want it to be.” Fleisch cites Israel-based fundraisers who found that the more American donors learn about a cause in Israel, the less likely they are to give toward it. He notes in the book that this was true of donors to both left-wing and right-wing causes. Most American Jewish funders do not necessarily see it this way. Fleisch cites a survey he conducted with donors, finding that they “mostly believed that they ­were up to the task.”

Filling gaps: Fleisch said he was driven to write this book after he realized while doing a project on the New Israel Fund that there was a dearth of research into the issue of American Jewish charitable giving to Israel. “I remember the first time I went to the library to look at the Jewish philanthropy section and realized there really wasn’t a Jewish philanthropy section. It was three books, and one of them was 100 years old,” he said. “And I felt that such an important component of the relationship really deserved more attention.”

Read the full story here.


Giving while Jewish: More challenging than ever

stokkete/Adobe Stock

“Over the last five years, nonprofits have suffered through and responded to the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation and then the horrific events of Oct. 7 and their aftermath. Again and again, circumstances necessitated the immediate pivoting and redirection of so much of our giving to emergency campaigns and back again,” writes Avrum Lapin, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy. “How do we, as leaders and influencers, strategically consider the direction of giving as we navigate this uncharted path, and how do we engage others in determining solutions?”

Look around: “In the post-Oct. 7 Jewish world, values are both enduring and evolving. In today’s complex and rapidly changing environment, we need to regularly evaluate whether our priorities reflect what is important right now — for the short term and the long term as they are perceived today, versus in the past — and be prepared to adjust course accordingly.”

Communication is key: “We need to engage in more conversations with the people in our communities — federation leaders and staff, giving circle members, adult ed classmates, pickleball teammates, friends and family — to hear what they are saying and learn what they are thinking as we make the decisions that continue or redefine our personal and communal philanthropic paths. This isn’t to say that you have to be a follower. You can listen well and also share your perspective. The point is that you may learn about something in the course of these exchanges that wasn’t on your radar; you might also impart wisdom or guidance of your own. You may disagree with someone else’s priorities, and yet find your conversation reveals an immediate need, local or global, that you did not know existed.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Strange Scapegoat: In Café Américain, Tomer Persico puts the current animus toward Israel in the context of a larger ongoing rejection of the legacies of Western civilization. “More than a romantic infatuation with the not-so-noble savage, what we have here is a rejection of the West, condemning it and its offspring, modernity, as inherently violent, oppressive, imperialist, patriarchal, or just plain evil… As the most obvious manifestation of ‘West’ in the midst of ‘East’, as what is considered the last living remnant of colonial rule and of imperialism (however small in scale), Israel acts as the lightning rod for the Occidentalists’ vitriol… As the progenitor of Christianity, Judaism is conceived as the West’s most primitive kernel, the primal point of ur-Westernness. Israel thus becomes a Western totem, portraying the malevolent spirits of the West’s entire history. In an incredible historical irony, the Jews are now not an oriental, semitic pariah nation nor a degenerate sub-human race, but the purest representatives of the West and the most atrocious white supremacists… The wish to eradicate Israel is therapeutic, indeed salvific: the sins of all the forefathers, those imperialist, colonialist, slave-holding Europeans, will finally be atoned. The Jewish state is thus set up to be sacrificed, burned as a Holocaust for the redemption of the original sins of the West.” [CaféAméricain]

A Little Levity: In The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Drew Lindsay examines a recent fundraising campaign by Charity:water that manages to poke fun at today’s hyper-polarized society and highlight that support for certain causes cuts across differences. “Like hosts at Thanksgiving dinners, most fundraisers shy from issues that split their donor families, but the international relief group took on the country’s most bitter divisions. Sort of. Supporters who clicked through found an interactive quiz that asked them to vote on critical issues. Like whether pineapple belongs on pizza… ‘We wanted to get some engagement with people who might enjoy having a little fun during a time that otherwise feels quite heavy,’ says chief revenue officer Ben Greene. ‘Could we do something that puts a smile on people’s faces?’ The group, an international development organization that builds wells and clean-water systems, used the moment to underscore its belief that its work transcends differences. ‘No matter which side you’ve taken in the battle of opinions,’ the quiz concluded, ‘equitable access to clean water is one thing we can all agree on.’ ‘We think about our mission as a unifier,’ Greene said. ‘We are about getting clean water to people who need it. And there are a lot of people who can get behind that.’ That seems like an appealing message for any service nonprofit that helps people improve their lives, but most groups balk at anything that even glancingly touches on today’s hot-button issues. ‘I give them credit for doing this,’ says Mark Rovner, founder of Sea Change Strategies, a fundraising consultancy. ‘It is sort of gutsy.’” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

The Campus Quandary: Writing in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Shira Ruderman considers how Israelis and American Jews should react to the anti-Israel protest movements on college campuses. “We can choose to stand resolute, unwavering in the face of these protests, asserting that avoiding these institutions would be conceding victory to the opposing narrative. Alternatively, we can opt out, refusing to support institutions that fail to uphold our personal values, as well as the foundational principles of American society. It is a tension that weighs heavily on our minds, forgoing either choice seems to entail a loss… As American Jews we tend to think that this is an Israel problem, or maybe at most— a Jewish Problem. We need to be very clear here— This is an American problem. One that is spreading fast to other liberal democracies. Addressing this fundamental issue within American higher education is paramount… we might think that just because the academic year on US college campuses is nearing its end this will all subside soon, it will not- it will become bigger and continue to spread to other arenas. The moral dilemma posed by antisemitic and anti-Israel protests on college campuses demands a nuanced approach. As parents, educators, and advocates, we must navigate this complex terrain with a steadfast commitment to upholding our values and principles.” [YediothAhronoth]

Around the Web

Matthew C. Levin announced he was stepping down as president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, Fla., beginning June 7…

More than 30 anti-Israel protesters, many of them masked, staged protests in the early hours of the morning outside the homes of University of Michigan regents, several of whom described the demonstrations as “scary” and “intimidating”…

Sonoma State University President Mike Lee was placed on leave after he announced that his school would institute an academic boycott of Israel, among other concessions to anti-Israel demonstrators; the California Legislative Jewish Caucus commended the California State University system for nullifying the Sonoma State agreement and suspending Lee…

In a letter to The Wall Street JournalTechnion President Uri Sivan extends an invitation to “those researchers, teachers and students who feel unwelcome in their communities and share our commitment to scientific advancement” to come to study at the Israeli university…

Jacob Helberg, an adviser to the big data firm Palantirmade a $1 million donation to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign. Helberg, who previously raised money for Democratic candidates, appears to be part of a growing group of tech leaders backing Trump…

The Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust, funded by Rob Katz and his wife, Elana Amsterdam, announced $3.275 million in grants to 23 nonprofits focusing on increasing voter access in communities of color, particularly in Arizona, Nevada and North Carolina…

Shawnta Friday-Stroud, a vice president at Florida A&M Universitystepped down from her position over her role in accepting what was initially seen as a massive gift but was later understood to be worth far less and put on hold indefinitely…

Maria Manetti Shrem pledged more than $20 million to the University of California, Davis, to fund eight endowments for arts and design; it is the largest-ever gift to the university’s arts program…

Three Jewish-owned businesses in close proximity to one another on Manhattan’s Upper East Side were broken into early yesterday morning and had their glass doors smashed…

The Jewish Journal published a tribute to Ivan Wolkind, the former chief operating and financial officer at the Jewish Federation Los Angeles, CEO at Magen Am and incoming CEO of the Holocaust Museum in Houston, who died of a heart attack at 56 earlier this month…

Pic of the Day


The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York hosted the inaugural gathering of the Brooklyn Black and Jewish Clergy Dialogue on Monday at the Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn.


Jonathan S. Lavine, co-managing partner and chief investment officer of Bain Capital Credit

Managing partner at the private equity firm Accretive LLC and former CEO of the Warner Music Group, Edgar Bronfman Jr.

Scholar, author and rabbi, he is the founding president of CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, Irving “Yitz” Greenberg… Retired judge of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, she has served as president and chair of The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Ellen Moses Heller… Senior official in the Carter, Bush 41, Clinton and Obama administrations, Bernard W. Aronson… Member of the New York State Assembly for 52 years (the longest tenure ever), his term ended in 2022, Richard N. Gottfried… Former chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, Andrew Lack… Member of the House of Representatives since 2013 (D-FL), she was previously the mayor of West Palm Beach, Lois Frankel… Harvard history professor, Emma Georgina Rothschild… Proto-punk singer, songwriter and guitarist, Jonathan Richman… Radio voice of the Texas Rangers baseball organization since 1979, Eric Nadel… Rochester, N.Y., resident and advisor to NYC-based Ezras Nashim volunteer ambulance service, Michael E. Pollock… Real estate developer and mechutan of Donald Trump, Charles Kushner… Film and stage actress, noted for “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Terms of Endearment,” Debra Winger… President of Tribe Media, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Jewish JournalDavid Suissa… Real estate mogul and collector of modern and contemporary art, Aby J. Rosen… Executive assistant at Los Angeles-based FaceCake Marketing Technologies, Esther Bushey… U.S. ambassador to the European Union in the Obama administration, he had a bar mitzvah-like ceremony in Venice in 2017, Anthony Luzzatto Gardner… Social entrepreneur and co-founder of nonprofit Jumpstart, Jonathan Shawn Landres… Actress, television personality and author, Victoria Davey (Tori) Spelling… Host of programs on the Travel Channel and the History Channel, Adam Richman… VP and associate general counsel at CNN, Drew Shenkman… Managing director at FTI Consulting, Jeff Bechdel… Composer, conductor and music producer known for his film and television scores, Daniel Alexander Slatkin … Chef and food blogger, her husband Ryan played baseball for Team Israel, Jamie Neistat Lavarnway