WhatsApp founder Jan Koum donates record $2 million to AIPAC’s campaign efforts

Retired tech entrepreneur becomes largest individual donor to pro-Israel lobby as it supports candidates in Democratic primaries

In this February 24, 2014, photo, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO Jan Koum speaks during a conference at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
In this February 24, 2014, photo, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO Jan Koum speaks during a conference at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

JTA — WhatsApp founder Jan Koum has become the largest individual donor to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s campaign committee, spending $2 million to support AIPAC’s involvement in this year’s Democratic primaries.

The massive donation made in June and revealed earlier this week in a release by the Federal Election Commission marks a debut in the world of pro-Israel campaign finance for Koum, a Ukrainian-born Jew with an estimated fortune of $10 billion or more.

Previously, the largest sums given to AIPAC’s super PAC, known as the United Democracy Project, were $1 million donations from Haim Saban, Paul Singer and Bernard Marcus.

The publicity-shy Koum has kept a low public profile in recent years following his sale of WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 in a $22 billion deal and subsequent departure in 2018 from his leadership role at the merged companies. Recent reporting by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has shown that Koum has spent his retirement from tech building a charitable foundation devoted to Jewish causes.

With some $140 million in donations to about 70 groups in 2019-2020, Koum has quietly become one of the largest donors in the world of Jewish philanthropy.

Koum’s giving reflects a right-wing and pro-Israel worldview, with significant donations to Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Israel on Campus Coalition and the Maccabee Task Force Foundation, a group founded by Sheldon Adelson aiming to combat anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses. He has also donated $6 million to the American fundraising arm of Elad, a group trying to expand Jewish settlement in parts of largely Arab East Jerusalem, and $175,000 to the Central Fund of Israel, a group that distributes donations from the United States to settler groups in the West Bank.

AIPAC’s United Democracy Project has so far spent some $21 million on Democratic primary campaigns aiming to bolster pro-Israel candidates running for Congress, often against candidates who have expressed criticism of Israel.

The pro-Israel lobbying group claimed its most recent victory this week when the candidate it backed in the primary for Maryland’s 4th Congressional district won. The super PAC had spent nearly $6 million to support Glenn Ivey over the more progressive Donna Edwards.

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