TEL AVIV — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kicked off his re-election campaign Monday night with all the fanfare expected of the second longest serving PM in the country's history.
The darkened room with flashing lights and pumping techno music looked more like a club than a political event, and Likud Party activists danced with the assurance that their party leader would, once again, be prime minister.
"Thank you, rich Americans!" said Yonatan Benizri, a 27-year-old Likud activist. "The rest of the parties are still scrambling and Netanyahu has a party."
As Netanyahu kicked off his campaign, records from Israel's State Comptroller Office showed he had raised just over 1 million shekels (roughly $250,000), with more than 90% of it coming from donors in the United States.
"It's nothing new," said Benizri, who volunteers with the Likud in the Tel Aviv area. "Why get money from Israel when you can get it from the U.S.?"
Over Netanyahu's last three elections, publicly available records show that he has consistently received over 90% of his campaign contributions from the United States, with a majority of the money coming from just a handful of families in California and Florida.
The vastly wealthy Falic family of Florida, owners of the Duty Free Americas airport shops as well as several high-end fashion brands, have been one of the most consistent donors to Netanyahu's campaign. Four members of that family were Netanyahu's top contributors, with each giving close to the maximum of $11,500 per donor. Closely following them were the Book family of New Jersey, owners of Jet Support Systems, with four members each contributing $11,000 each, and the Schottenstein family, owners of the American Eagle fashion chain, whose four members donated $10,000 each.
Altogether, those three families account for just over half of Netanyahu's campaign contributions. The families did not respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.
"He doesn't even have to ask and they give," said one Likud Party campaign adviser, who asked not be named as he was not approved to speak to the media. "Their pocketbooks are always open for Netanyahu."
The adviser said it freed up time for Netanyahu, who did not have to make the rounds at formal events and dinners to collect donations.
"There is a well-established network in the U.S. through the group American Friends of the Likud, which is connected to people who care about Israel and its future," said the adviser.
That group has led several trips for Israeli Likud politicians to Washington, D.C., where they can fundraise and network with pro-Israel groups. Several of the Likud's top politicians, including Danny Danon, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, also rely heavily on U.S. donors.
Sheera Frenkel is a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed News based in San Francisco. She has reported from Israel, Egypt, Jordan and across the Middle East. Her secure PGP fingerprint is 4A53 A35C 06BE 5339 E9B6 D54E 73A6 0F6A E252 A50F
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