Mr. Lauder, a billionaire and longtime Republican contributor, cast the effort as more aggressive than other Jewish advocacy groups, outlining plans to air television and radio ads.
Dec. 9, 2019
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 plans 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 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.
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 hold at least some anti-Semitic beliefs, including people who said that the Holocaust is a myth or has been exaggerated (14 percent), that Jews have “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 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 rodsfor 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 and down 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.