Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have acknowledged a friendship that goes back decades, but the financial ties that also bind them became evident when the premier revealed his list of campaign donors last month.
More than half the people who gave money to Netanyahu's re-election campaign are Americans who've also donated to the Romney campaign or the Republican Party in the United States.
Israeli law allows politicians to campaign and raise money abroad, though campaign finance is vastly different here, where the election season is usually just three months, campaign budgets are kept to a minimum, and politicians traditionally have relied on public funding. Netanyahu, however, has sought money abroad, though the amount raised is tiny by U.S. standards: It can be counted in the tens of thousands of dollars.
According to records published by Israel's State Comptroller office, Netanyahu has received donations from 47 individuals. Only one of them was Israeli, and 42 were American. By cross-checking public records in the United States with Netanyahu's list, McClatchy Newspapers found that 28 of the American donors to Netanyahu also gave to Romney, the Republican Party or both. Only two gave to Democrats, one of whom donated to President Barack Obama.
Asked whether they were bothered that more than 90 percent of Netanyahu's money came from the U.S., most Israelis shrugged.
"So they get money in the U.S.? Why should that surprise us? That is the least of the surprises in this day of every other Israeli politician going to jail for fraud or graft," said Shlomit Beniyahu, 48, who said she'd vote for Netanyahu in the upcoming elections. "Maybe it's a good thing Netanyahu gets money from the same people as Romney; it shows he's smart enough to know the rich people that have the money."
One family that appeared to have particularly deep pockets for Netanyahu and Romney were the Falics of Miami. The Falics, who own the airport chain Duty Free Americas, made their fortune as the former owners of the House of Christian Lacroix, a French fashion designer. Through several family members, the Falics were responsible for nearly half of Netanyahu's campaign contributions: about $42,000.
Public records in the United States show that Falic family members are also longtime donors to the Republican Party, with more than $100,000 in contributions to Republican candidates this year, including $20,000 to the Romney campaign. The Falics also donated to pro-settlement groups, including some that lead tours for Americans to Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
A Falic family member reached in Miami declined to comment, as did Romney's campaign.
A spokesman for Netanyahu declined to comment on the premier's sources of funding, but one former Netanyahu aide, who spoke to McClatchy only on the condition of anonymity because he's still involved in politics, said the prime minister considered America a "natural place to fundraise."
"They have always welcomed Netanyahu with open arms in the United States. The people, the donors there, could not give to him enough," the former aide said. "And he and Romney also share a lot of natural friends."
Over the course of the U.S. campaign season, Netanyahu has been criticized for appearing to favor Romney over Obama. While the Romney campaign has been clear that it hasn't sought the prime minister's endorsement, pro-Israel groups have aired advertisements in swing states such as Florida that stress that a Romney White House would be better for the state of Israel.
"It's a clear message from those of us here in Israel that Romney is better for the state of Israel and that his relationship with Netanyahu would certainly be a more natural friendship," said Kory Bardash from the Republicans Abroad in Israel group.
In interviews, Netanyahu's representatives have stressed that he isn't interested in playing partisan politics in the United States. However, his list of donors shows only two families who gave to both the Democratic Party and Netanyahu.
"It seems a little strange that his contributor list is so one-sided," said Beniyahu, who spoke to McClatchy while on a lunch break with three of her co-workers in Tel Aviv.
"I guess it shows something like a preference for one party over another," said Michal Cohen, one of Beniyahu's co-workers. "For some people, it might bother them that now, it's like he owes something to the Republicans. ... But most people won't care."
(Frenkel is a McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent.)
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