Ronald S. Lauder, the cosmetics billionaire and president of the World Jewish Congress, is setting aside $25 million of his own money to start a new organization devoted to rooting out what he sees as the growing tide of anti-Semitism in American politics.
Mr. Lauder is a longtime Republican donor, but he said he planned to use the organization to go after both Democrats and Republicans who traffic in anti-Semitic language and tropes. The effort, to be called the Anti-Semitism Accountability Project, or A.S.A.P, will consist of both a nonprofit and a super PAC, with Mr. Lauder as the final arbiter of which politicians will be targeted for defeat.
“It’s my money and what I stand for,” Mr. Lauder said in an interview in his 42nd-floor office overlooking Central Park, which is decorated with art and pictures of him with prominent American and Israeli leaders, as well as both the American and Israeli flags.
He cast the effort as more aggressive than that of other Jewish advocacy groups, outlining plans to leverage political campaign tactics like airing television and radio ads, and organizing events in the districts of offending politicians.
“The key word for all these things is action,” he said. “Because we’ve had polls, we’ve had conferences, we’ve had different speeches. But no action.”
Mr. Lauder, 75, has been a Republican contributor for decades, and was first appointed to an ambassadorship by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. More recently, he has given $200,000 to President Trump’s shared committees with the Republican Party, and he donated $1.65 million in 2018 to a super PAC that ran ads against Democratic House and Senate candidates. But he stressed he planned to police both sides of the aisle with this new initiative.
“Although I am a lifelong Republican, anti-Semitism knows no political party. I’m going after the right as well as the left,” Mr. Lauder pledged, floating Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, who has made remarks defending white supremacy, as a potential target.
Mr. Lauder said he has already hired teams of researchers to follow political races across the country “from the most local to the major ones” to track anti-Semitic comments. The effort is being managed by Tusk Strategies, the consulting firm of Bradley Tusk, who managed a re-election campaign for former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Others involved include Doug Schoen, a Democratic pollster, and Nelson Warfield, a Republican strategist and longtime adviser to Mr. Lauder.
“If it’s a city councilman, or it’s a U.S. senator, or presidential candidate, we’ll know about it,” Mr. Lauder predicted.
Mr. Lauder said that he did not have concerns about Mr. Trump, who has at times perpetuated stereotypes of Jews using money to buy political influence, including his 2016 tweet that superimposed Hillary Clinton on piles of cash, a six-point Star of David and the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” In recent years, the Anti-Defamation League has tracked a spike in anti-Semitic incidents since the president’s election, with the number roughly doubling between 2015 and the last two years.
Mr. Lauder, who has known Mr. Trump for decades, said the president’s 2019 State of the Union address had settled the matter for him, when Mr. Trump declared: “We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed.”
“I don’t believe there is an anti-Semitic bone in his body,” Mr. Lauder said of Mr. Trump. “He set the record straight, as far as I’m concerned, in front of the whole nation.”
Days after the interview, Mr. Trump spoke to the Israeli American Council National Summit on Saturday in Florida. He said many in the audience were in the real estate business and “brutal killers”; he also complained about Jewish people “that don’t love Israel enough,” and said the audience had “no choice” but to vote for him because some of his Democratic rivals had proposed a wealth tax. Some Democrats, such as Aaron Keyak, the former head of National Jewish Democratic Council, condemned Mr. Trump for using anti-Semitic tropes.
This fall, Mr. Lauder commissioned a poll by Mr. Schoen to measure the level of anti-Semitism in America. It found that roughly one in six Americans held at least some anti-Semitic beliefs, including people who said that the Holocaust was a myth or had been exaggerated (14 percent), that Jews had “too much control over the American government” (18 percent), or “too much control over global affairs (17 percent).
“Very scary,” Mr. Lauder said.
On the Democratic side, Mr. Lauder said he planned to reach out to a group of freshmen Democratic congresswomen who have been become known as “the Squad,” which includes Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib are the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress and both have become lightning rods for many in the pro-Israel community. Israel barred both from coming on an official visit, under pressure from Mr. Trump.
“I’d like to sit down and talk to them,” Mr. Lauder said.
Mr. Lauder said he differentiated between those critical of Israel’s policies and those who questioned the existence of the state of Israel.
“I think everybody has a right to disagree with Israel’s policies and what they’re doing,” he said, though he added that he was uncomfortable with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
In addition to the political work, Mr. Lauder said his group planned to look into universities, and their professors, that he sees taking “an anti-Semitic point of view” and pressure them by contacting major contributors.
“Either stop it,” Mr. Lauder warned, “or we’ll go after your donors."
Mr. Lauder also told the story of recently meeting with a student who had just been called a Jewish slur on the streets of Manhattan — and no one stopped or even reacted.
“I thought about it and thought about it,” Mr. Lauder said. What if, he said, it had “been a person of color and someone used the N-word? Everyone would have turned around. Or had it been a gay person and someone said something to him? People would have turned around. We, the Jewish people, have allowed people to insult us and we’ve been taught to almost just be quiet.”
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