For partisans of President Barack Obama, the headlines were alarming.
“Jewish Donors Warn Obama on Israel,” said The Wall Street Journal. “Obama’s Jewish Backers on Edge Over His Mideast Peace Plan,” proclaimed the Los Angeles Times.
The denunciations were swift and final. President Obama, it seemed, had made a fundamental error in calling for Israel to return to its 1967 borders, with land swaps. Donors, according to the new narrative, would soon be switching their allegiances to the G.O.P.
But conversations with nearly a dozen of the top Jewish fund-raisers in New York reveal a much different reality, as rainmakers say they continue to back the president they overwhelmingly supported three years ago.
“This is nonsense,” said David Pollak, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party. “I think anyone who would not give money to Barack Obama because of remarks he made the other day wasn’t giving money to him in 2008.”
Last August, hedge-fund manager and Obama megabundler Daniel Loeb sent a kiss-off letter to his friends in financial services, expressing his sense of being betrayed by the administration and comparing the treatment they were getting to that of a battered wife. Mr. Loeb’s sentiment was echoed by several Wall Street Democrats and taken as proof that the financial industry was turning its back on the party.
A similar letter from a major Jewish donor was feared to be forthcoming. But so far, only Haim Saban, the billionaire entertainment executive, has publicly declared that he was finished donating to the president. There was just one problem, though: Mr. Saban was a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton and had never given money to Mr. Obama. Furthermore, Mr. Saban pledged to keep supporting down-ticket Democrats.
Mr. Obama’s New York supporters said most of these accounts rely disproportionately on voices like that of Mr. Saban, or, more often, the heads of major national Jewish organizations, who have long been lukewarm about Mr. Obama.
“You’ve got all the professional Jews who are mouthpieces and speak for themselves. They don’t like Obama,” said one real-estate executive who has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars for Democrats. “There are people who talk to the press all day long, and they probably didn’t support Obama last time.”
The stakes are high for the Obama campaign. According to some estimates, nearly 60 percent of the money raised by the Democratic National Committee is donated by Jews, and any drop in support for the president’s re-election could endanger the campaign’s ambitious goal of raising $1 billion.
Earlier this week, a few dozen members of Obama’s regional finance committee met with Jim Messina, the campaign manager for the Obama 2012 effort. According to one bundler present, they discussed how Obama can win, even if the economy remains in the tank, and how the campaign can attract the smaller, grass-roots donors. The topic of Israel didn’t come up once.
“You have concerns among Democratic supporters of Obama, but they are concerns among friends,” said Robert Zimmerman, a prominent fund-raiser. “And there is no trust or confidence in the Republicans.”
Jewish fund-raisers say that they fear for Israel’s future too, but continue to support the president, mainly because his Middle East speech didn’t contain anything Mr. Obama hadn’t already articulated. Plus, they point out, Israel is just one issue among several, and Mr. Obama remains more palatable than any of his opponents on issues ranging from the war in Iraq to the environment and preserving what remains of the social safety net.
“I have friends who are concerned, who wish Obama hadn’t said that,” said one bundler. “But at the end of the day, are they going to support Mitt Romney? I don’t think so.”
If they run into resistance from Jewish donors, bundlers said that they will lay out the many reasons they continue to support the president–reminding any reluctant supporters that Mr. Obama’s speech only repeated the peace plan that has been accepted doctrine going back to George H.W. Bush, and that it’s supported by Hillary Clinton, who remains a trusted figure in the Jewish community. And they will point to Mr. Obama’s well-received address at AIPAC as proof that most Jews line up solidly behind the president, despite what the press might say.
The fund-raising has been a bit slow in the early going, according to several fund-raisers, but is expected to pick up once there’s a real Republican opponent to contrast with the current president.
“The message is going to be simple, whether you are a Jewish donor, a black donor, a Hispanic donor, whatever,” said one fund-raiser. “Re-elect Obama or this country is screwed.”