Angry US donor wants to issue ‘a wake-up call,’ isn’t planning to pull his Israel funding
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InterviewThe government of Israel has a 'worldwide constituency which it needs to respect'

Angry US donor wants to issue ‘a wake-up call,’ isn’t planning to pull his Israel funding

Real-estate mogul 'Ike' Fisher, a member of AIPAC's board, made headlines Sunday with threat to 'suspend' support over Western Wall, conversion crisis

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

American pro-Israel fundraiser and philanthropist Isaac 'Ike' Fisher with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (courtesy)
American pro-Israel fundraiser and philanthropist Isaac 'Ike' Fisher with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (courtesy)

Taking a break from his long Fourth of July weekend in the mountains of North Carolina, Isaac “Ike” Fisher, a member of the board of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee, told The Times of Israel on Sunday that reports of the demise of his support for Israel have been greatly exaggerated.

The Florida real estate tycoon, a leading fundraiser in the Greater Miami Jewish Federation who is active in many Jewish philanthropies, was splashed on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday morning vowing to “suspend” all further financial support for Israel. This, in reaction to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s June 25 decision to “suspend” a long-negotiated January 2016 government decision which would have seen construction of a permanent pluralistic prayer pavilion, over which non-Orthodox Jewish leaders would have a share in oversight, in the southern section of Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

Fisher elaborated on Israeli Channel 2 on Sunday afternoon that he had spoken of “suspending” his philanthropy, rather than ending it, just as the Israeli government had “suspended” its original Western Wall commitment, and that he was reacting to the government moves in “language they understand.”

‘Israel was created as a Jewish state, not as a Jewish theocracy’

Speaking with The Times of Israel later on Sunday, Fisher said he used the term “suspend” to raise awareness of the dire consequences Israel would face in losing the support of the Diaspora. “I am trying to speak in the language of the politicians: They suspended this agreement and I said I was suspending my support,” he explained.

Having spoken out, he said, however, he was not planning any next step.

“It needs to be appreciated how much Diaspora Jewry supports the state of Israel,” he told the Times of Israel. Without the Diaspora’s financial support, Israeli citizens would be looking to the government to replace its funding, he added.

Isaac 'Ike' Fisher, a member of the board of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) (courtesy)
Isaac ‘Ike’ Fisher, a member of the board of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) (courtesy)

The government of Israel, said Fisher, “treats with disdain the larger am yisrael [People of Israel]; It lacks the vision that the government represents the entire Jewish world,” he said.

The issues of the frozen Western Wall deal, as well as a conversion bill — which would grant the ultra-Orthodox-dominated Israeli Chief Rabbinate sole discretion for conversion in Israel, but which was shelved for six months on Friday — are “not Reform or Conservative issues,” he said. They are, rather, issues which affect the entire Jewish people.

“With the kotel, [the Israeli government is showing] contempt for women who love Torah and Jews who believe in an egalitarian form of worship. With the new [conversion] legislation, it is contempt for the overwhelming number of Jewish leaders from all denominations,” he said.

Despite his current anger at Netanyahu’s government, Fisher said he has spent his “whole life committed to Israel and the Jewish people” and he is “not cutting himself off” from it now. “My heart is with Israel and the larger Jewish people,” he said.

Fisher said he is not suggesting sanctions and, having raised awareness of the need for public outcry, has no immediate plans for further action. Ten days ago he made a purchase for $1 million Israel Bonds. Contrary to reports that he was stopping the purchase, Fisher told The Times of Israel that “there is no way of even trying to negate that sale.”

‘Wake up everybody. You need to support us, because you need our support’

Instead, when he speaks about Israel Bonds, or his financial support for Tel Aviv University, he said he is indicating that he expects these organizations to speak up with their support for the Western Wall deal and world Jewry — just as he and other Diaspora donors support the institutions’ needs.

“I want to say to Israel Bonds, understand who your constituency is,” said Fisher. “To tell them, ‘Wake up everybody. You need to support us, because you need our support,'” he said.

Fisher said there is no “or else” to his statements on support. “‘Or else’ is not productive,” he said.

But he does want the government of Israel to fully understand that it has a “worldwide constituency which it needs to respect.”

“Israel was created as a Jewish state, not as a Jewish theocracy. And Diaspora Jews and Israelis needs to recognize the threat of a creeping theocracy,” he said. “It’s not here yet, I think we still have democratic institutions like the Supreme Court to protect us. But we need to stand up and say we recognize the threat.”

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