AIPAC’s War Chest Is Growing as the War on Gaza Rages

Since the war on Gaza began, the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC has reaped $90 million in fundraising. The organization is using that massive haul to lobby against a cease-fire.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference on March 22, 2010, in Washington, DC. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO via Getty Images)

In the wake of the October 7 attacks on southern Israel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has reaped a $90 million fundraising haul, according to confidential internal documents reviewed by the Lever.

Large donations flowed as the influential pro-Israel lobbying group hosted a remobilized Israeli military official who reassured potential contributors that the country’s military was doing everything possible to mitigate civilian casualties in Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza, according to donor-only meetings reviewed by the Lever.    

From January to September 2023, the nonpublic documents show that AIPAC received an average of around $12 million in monthly pledged donations. By contrast, in October alone, the documents show that AIPAC received more than triple that amount — more than $40 million in pledged donations. In the following two months, donors pledged another nearly $50 million.

Top benefactors on a list of 2023 donors reviewed by the Lever represent a cross-section of the US elite, including pro-sports teams owners; heads of private equity firms; real estate titans; a Maryland congressman now running for the US Senate; the former CEO of Victoria’s Secret; the cofounder of the dance-exercise company Zumba; and the creator of Squishmallows, the beloved children’s toy.

The documents and list were provided by an internal AIPAC source. The Lever attempted to contact more than seventy-five of the individuals on the list of donors. Nine people confirmed to the Lever that they were AIPAC donors. Six additional individuals were listed as AIPAC board members in 2013, when the organization publicly disclosed its board. Seven other individuals on the list are publicly listed as being “involved in pro-Israel political giving” on a 2022 organization event page.

Prior to publication, the Lever showed AIPAC the information reported in this story. The organization responded with an emailed statement: “Much of the information here is either misstated, misinterpreted, inaccurate or illegitimately obtained. Since October 7, there has been a systematic effort by Israel’s detractors to harass, intimidate and silence supporters of the Jewish state. All detractors should know that their attacks only increase our determination to strengthen the US-Israel relationship.”

When the Lever asked AIPAC’s spokesperson to identify any inaccurate information, the organization did not respond. The Lever followed up three times before publication, but the spokesperson stopped responding.

Three individuals named on the list denied being donors. That includes Leonid Radvinsky, the billionaire owner of OnlyFans, a hugely popular internet platform dominated by sex workers. According to the internal documents, Radvinsky and his wife, Katie Chudnovsky, pledged $11 million to AIPAC — the most of anyone listed.

“I didn’t donate or pledge $11M,” Radvinsky wrote in an email, and “this appl[ies] to me / my foundation / my family.” When the Lever asked Radvinsky why AIPAC had him listed as a donor, Radvinsky replied, “I don’t know.” When the Lever asked Radvinsky to comment on internal AIPAC documentation showing a wire transfer from his wife to AIPAC, Radvinsky stopped responding.

After 1,200 Israelis were killed and 240 others taken hostage in the Oct. 7 attacks, Israel launched a military offensive in Gaza. Since then, more than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Miri Eisin, a retired but recently remobilized Israeli colonel and a longtime AIPAC ally, declared during a donors-only virtual meeting in December that “Israel has done more than any military anywhere at any time in any war ever to try to save the civilians.”

“We’re doing everything right,” Eisin added. “We’re trying to save lives.”

According to military experts cited by the New York Times, the “pace of death during Israel’s campaign has few precedents in this century” and people are dying in Gaza faster than “even the deadliest moments of U.S.-led attacks in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.” While the majority of the combatants targeted by the Israeli military are men, nearly 70 percent of the dead are women and children.

The internal AIPAC information reviewed by the Lever constitutes a rare view inside a well-funded organization that has successfully pushed the US government toward unconditional support of Israel for decades — and that is currently using its resources to lobby against a cease-fire that proponents say would alleviate suffering in Gaza.

AIPAC has already begun using its war chest to influence the 2024 election.

After Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) spoke in favor of a “negotiated regional cease-fire,” AIPAC sponsored ads claiming McCollum was “giving Hamas a lifeline.” AIPAC is attempting to “silence dissent by spreading lies,” McCollum said in response, adding “facts don’t matter to AIPAC and its extremist supporters.” Progressive groups working to oppose AIPAC believe the organization and its affiliated entities could ultimately spend $100 million in the 2024 cycle.

In January, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) proposed a resolution conditioning aid to Israel on the stipulation that the country would not violate human rights and international law in its attacks on Gaza. In an AIPAC donor-only meeting reviewed by the Lever, AIPAC president Michael Tuchin said Sanders was attempting to “undermine Israel’s security with a resolution baselessly accusing Israel of violating international law.” The attempt failed, garnering support from only eleven senators.

In another donor-only meeting reviewed by the Lever, AIPAC made its election strategy clear. During the November 29 event, an attendee asked AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr, “How do we encourage our members of Congress to stand up to some of the wildly inaccurate claims coming from the more pro-Hamas camp?”

“This won’t come as a surprise to anyone,” Kohr answered. “We are going to have to continue to demonstrate in even more dramatic ways that if you’re willing to stand with Israel when she’s at war and she needs America . . . we’re willing to help [you] politically.” As to those elected officials trying to “ensure that there’s a weakening of Israel at this moment,” Kohr said, they will have to be “defeated at the ballot box.”

Who Are AIPAC’s Donors?

AIPAC is legally designated as a 501(c)4 “social welfare” organization. That means contributions to AIPAC do not have to be made public under federal disclosure laws. Traditionally, AIPAC has kept the identity of its biggest donors a closely guarded secret.

The list of donors that the Lever reviewed offers insight into the sources of AIPAC’s resources. Most of the pledges on the list ranged between $100,000 to $200,000. Around twenty were between $500,000 and $2 million.

One pledge was an outlier at $11 million. The pledge was credited to “Mr Anonymous Anonymous” and Katie Chudnovsky. The pledge contained personal contact information and a short bio that identified “Mr Anonymous Anonymous” as Leonid Radvinsky, the “elusive” owner of the content platform OnlyFans. In the March 19, 2009, edition of the Chicago Tribune, Chudnovsky posted an announcement of her wedding to Radvinsky, writing, “We will work hard to enrich our marriage and to live life with dignity and dedication.”

In 2018, Radvinsky, a computer programmer and tech investor, purchased a 75 percent stake in OnlyFans from its original founders and has since seen the platform boom in popularity, fueled in part by increased internet usage during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 2022 fiscal year, OnlyFans subscribers spent $5.6 billion — and Radvinsky reportedly took in $338 million in dividends.

OnlyFans, best known for hosting adult content, takes a 20 percent cut of its creators’ earnings. (Subscription fees range from $4.99 to $49.99 a month.) Many content creators have become wealthy off their OnlyFans’ earnings but, as the Washington Post reports, the platform “suffers from a problem of incredible pay inequality.” In 2020, an independent researcher cited by the Post found that “the top 1 percent of accounts made 33 percent of the money, and that most accounts took home less than $145 a month.”

Beyond Radvinsky, the list of donors reviewed by the Lever was dominated by finance and real estate professionals. According to the list, that includes:

  • Daniel Sundheim, founder of the investment firm D1 Capital Partners, pledged $2 million.
  • Milton Cooper, executive chairman of the real estate giant Kimco Realty, pledged $1 million.
  • Tony Ressler, cofounder of the asset management firm Ares and owner of the Atlanta Hawks, pledged $1 million.
  • Jonathan Gray, president of Blackstone Group, the world’s largest private equity firm, pledged $1 million. In an internal email sent to employees of Blackstone Group days after October 7 and obtained by eJewish Philanthropy, Gray and Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman wrote, “We will be there for [Israel] throughout this crisis. The Blackstone Charitable Foundation will be making a $3 million contribution to support humanitarian relief efforts. Additionally, we are each committing $1 million personally and other senior partners have already generously committed approximately $2 million.” In 2021, Blackstone opened an office in Israel to tap into the country’s tech industry. The head of the office, a former Israeli Defense Ministry lieutenant, told the Times of Israel that “All of a sudden Israel is ripe enough to be a relevant partner for an entity like Blackstone.”
  • Josh Harris, cofounder of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management and co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Devils, and the Washington Commanders, pledged $500,000.
  • Lloyd Blankfein, former CEO and current senior chairman of the investment bank Goldman Sachs, pledged $100,000.

Aside from finance and real estate, the list was an eclectic mix of powerful Americans.

  • Julie Platt, chair of the prominent Jewish Federations of North America and the actor Ben Platt’s mother, pledged $500,000.
  • Shlomo Rechnitz, reportedly California’s largest nursing-home operator, pledged $260,000. Last year, Rechnitz agreed to a settlement after being indicted on charges of Medicare fraud.
  • Judd Zebersky — founder of the toy company Jazwares, which makes the TikTok-beloved Squishmallows and claims that “putting a smile on children’s faces is at the heart of everything we do” — pledged $250,000. In a LinkedIn post immediately following October 7, Zebersky wrote, “Remember that Israel is fighting for its very existence. This is hitting close to home for many Jazmanians.”
  • Mark Penn, a longtime political operative, pledged $100,000. Penn is the CEO of the Stagwell Group, which owns the political consulting firm cofounded by President Joe Biden’s senior adviser Anita Dunn. As Semafor has reported, recent polling done by a company owned by Stagwell has indicated widespread support from Americans for Hamas. That polling has been covered by media outlets around the world despite glaring indications that its methodology is deeply flawed.
  • Leslie Wexner, former CEO of Victoria’s Secret, pledged $100,000.
  • Alberto Perlman, cofounder of Zumba, pledged $100,000.

Reached via email, Tony Ressler declined to confirm or deny the information, writing, “Don’t want to be rude but please do as you wish . . . I don’t know you or your publication or organization . . . wishing you all the best.” The other individuals named above did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

One of the most prominent names on the list is Rep. David Trone (D-MD), the owner of a massive liquor-store chain who is now running for a US Senate seat. Trone has been an on-the-record AIPAC supporter for years. According to the list of AIPAC donors reviewed by the Lever, Trone pledged $100,000 last year. A Trone campaign spokesperson confirmed to the Lever that Trone was a “Minyan member”–level donor in 2023. “Minyan member” is AIPAC’s term for donors who pledge an annual sum of $100,000. (In Judaism, a “minyan” is the quorum of worshippers required for communal prayer.)

Trone is seeing AIPAC support come back to him: over the current 2024 election cycle, he’s already received $105,600 from donors via the AIPAC PAC. (During a town hall with voters, Trone also recently expressed impromptu support for a cease-fire in Gaza.)

Individuals on the list who confirmed to the Lever they were AIPAC donors mostly explained their support for the organization in ways that mirrored AIPAC’s own messaging.

Richard Thalheimer, founder of home electronics company Sharper Image, pledged $100,000 in 2023. Thalheimer told the Lever that he’s donated at Minyan level for years “and some years have been higher.”

He added, “AIPAC is doing an outstanding job of getting our policymakers and Congress members to visit Israel and understand what is really going on. These educational visits then support policy and funding decisions, which strengthen our bond with Israel” and “ensure continuous funding and technology sharing for mutual defense. Oct. 7 motivated me, and should motivate everyone who supports democracy, to give additional funding to AIPAC and Israel.”

Ken Alterman, former CEO of the thrift store chain Savers, Inc., also pledged $100,000, according to the list reviewed by the Lever. Alterman did not confirm the size of his donation amount but did identify himself as a donor, adding “I support the mission. Building U.S. and Israeli relations — I’m grateful that happens.”

Jacob Klein, a New Jersey real estate developer listed as a $100,000 donor on the list, confirmed that he was a Minyan member, and said he donates that amount annually. AIPAC is “a very important organization and I value their work a great deal,” he told the Lever. He added that since October 7, he’s “more motivated so I’m gonna do more.”

Paul Burg, the ninety-year-old founder of the drug ingredients manufacturer Spectrum Chemicals, spoke more emotionally when reached for comment. Burg lived through Nazi control in a Jewish ghetto in modern-day Ukraine during World War II. He confirmed being an AIPAC donor, although he denied the amount ascribed to him on the list of donors reviewed by the Lever — $150,000 — and declined to specify the amount of his 2023 donation.

“Now is not the time to criticize Israel,” he said. “Israel has suffered tremendous damage not only from its enemies but also from its so-called friends. AIPAC is very important for Israel and the Jews in general — the people who want to destroy Israel intend to destroy the Jews from everywhere. It doesn’t stop with the Jews from America.”

“I will give my life for Israel,” Burg added, “and I never lived in Israel!”

How AIPAC Works

The organization that came to be known as AIPAC was formed in the mid-1950s in the wake of an Israeli massacre. In retaliation to a grenade attack that killed a mother and her two children, the Israeli army killed more than sixty civilians in the West Bank village of Qibya. I. L. Kenen, an influential political operator and the father of AIPAC, created the organization out of his concern that Qibya would damage “our propaganda.”

In the decades since, AIPAC has advocated for American support of Israeli governments. One of the only exceptions came in the early ’90s, during the 1993 Oslo Accords peace process between Israel and Palestine. While AIPAC officially supported the accords, one former AIPAC analyst has said that behind the scenes the organization worked to “cripple Oslo.”

Doug Rossinow, a professor at Minnesota’s Metro State University and the author of the forthcoming book, Promised Land: The Worlds of American Zionism, says AIPAC has long managed a “balancing act.” On one hand: “Thwarting efforts to achieve peaceful coexistence between Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East.” On the other: “Retaining an identity as an establishment consensus group.”

AIPAC does so largely by funneling money and support to both Democrats and Republicans.

As a 501(c)(4) organization, AIPAC legally cannot have politics as its “primary purpose.” But it still has wide latitude to impact elections in a variety of ways. That includes buying ads boosting or decrying candidate (like the ones it ran attacking McCollum); cultivating pro-Israel candidates and elected officials through its trips to the country; and informally steering generous pro-Israel donors to AIPAC-friendly candidates.

In the 2022 election cycle, for the first time, AIPAC launched two other entities to expand its political operations. One was a traditional political action committee, the AIPAC PAC, which can solicit an unlimited number of individual donations (capped at $3,300 per donor per election) to pass on to political candidates. The organization also established an affiliated super PAC, the United Democracy Project, which can spend unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose a candidate in an election. As a super PAC, the United Democracy Project can’t give directly to candidates or parties — but its donors aren’t constrained by contribution limits.

In the 2022 election cycle, the United Democracy Project spent more than $26 million. Outside of the party committees themselves, it was the tenth-biggest outside spender. The money was largely spent on mailers and TV ads to quash progressive Democrats critical of the Israeli government. Of that amount, $10.5 million came from AIPAC — but federal records do not include disclosures of the specific donors who originally contributed the money to AIPAC.

How AIPAC Talks to Its Donors

Outside of the organization’s high-profile annual conference, AIPAC officials seldom speak publicly. In donor-only virtual events reviewed by the Lever, the organization’s chief executives spoke at length about the organization’s strategies.

On November 29, AIPAC hosted a meeting, “Live From Israel: A Conversation With AIPAC Leadership,” featuring AIPAC president Michael Tuchin and Howard Kohr, its CEO. Placed on a glass table in front of them was an AIPAC coffee mug holding one little American flag and one little Israeli flag.

Tuchin spoke briefly about an incident that had occurred a few days prior: a protest at his home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Referring to the protesters as “pro-Hamas vandals,” Tuchin explained they were “blasting sirens, beating drums,” and throwing “baby body bags covered with blood around our house.”

Then, to spotlight support that AIPAC has from the political establishment, Tuchin ticked off the messages of support he received from prominent figures after the protest. “The second gentleman [Douglas Emhoff] called. The acting governor of California. The mayor of Los Angeles called several times. Many Senators. Members of Congress. Ambassadors.”

Next, Kohr and Tuchin brought up their current focus: fighting a “premature” cease-fire.

“Israelis, we believe, will make clear that they are doing remarkable things to minimize civilian casualties,” Kohr said. “But we have to remind members of the Senate and the House that the very strategy of Hamas — the predicate of their strategy — is that they have built an entire civilian infrastructure upon their military and terror capabilities.”

“It’s not possible to meet the objectives without some civilian casualties,” Kohr added. “This is not going to be pretty . . . the line between civilian and terrorist — and it does exist — is very difficult in Gaza.”

Tuchin suggested that it could have been an AIPAC delegation — and, possibly, an acting US lawmaker — killed on October 7.

“I’ve been to Kfar Aza twice this year with delegations,” he said, referring to one of the sites of the Hamas-led attacks. “With 29 members of Congress. We stood steps away from where Hamas attackers murdered people in cold blood. It really hit home.”

In other meetings, Tuchin underscored similar sentiments about the vulnerability of all Jewish people. In one, he hailed the Israeli military as a great transnational protector: it’s “for all of us around the globe that the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] is fighting.” In another, he said that Hezbollah, the Houthis, and other Iranian proxies have consistently confirmed “their intentions to murder as many Israelis and Jews as possible.”

In the December meeting where Eisin, the Israeli colonel, claimed, “We’re trying to save lives,” speakers echoed the idea that any member of the extended AIPAC network or their families could just as likely have been the victims of the October 7 attacks.

“It could have been my parents,” Eisin said. “It could have been my children.”

The moderator, AIPAC educational seminar leader Renee Sharon, quickly interjected. “I want to say, Miri — it  could have been one of our AIEF groups.” AIEF, or the American Israel Education Foundation, is an affiliate AIPAC organization that leads congressmembers on tours of Israel. “All of the times that we’ve been down there [in the south of Israel near the Gaza border]. It could have been any of us.”

In a December 21 donor meeting, the special guest was Yaakov Katz, former editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post.

“A lot of people love to play the numbers game,” he said early in the meeting. “20,000 dead.” (That was roughly the estimated civilian casualty total at the time Katz was speaking. It’s currently at more than 25,000.) “Well, look at the fact that we’re looking at 6-7,000 terrorists [killed] and we’re looking at a ratio of combatant to civilian of one to two” he noted. (Per Katz’s own numbers, the ratio would be closer to one alleged member of Hamas killed for every three civilians.)

“One to two is actually quite good when you think about the combat zone, the density, the urban terrain,” Katz added. “While it does look like there’s a lot of devastation and destruction inside the Gaza Strip, [the Israeli military] is operating with a lot of precision.”

Then he switched gears to talk about how the Israeli military “in the last sixty days or so has really reclaimed its glory of being an aggressive and effective ground force.”

On January 18, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) joined a donors-only meeting, “From the Frontlines to Capitol Hill.” When asked to explain why Senator Sanders and other congressmembers have criticized Israel’s war tactics, Gillibrand credited bad intelligence.

As a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, Gillibrand explained, she receives regular briefings on Israeli military strategy that include “how many innocent civilians they’re willing to accept in their targeting” which has convinced her that Israel follows “all of the humanitarian agreements” in a “thoughtful, methodical way.” Meanwhile, her colleagues don’t have “access to that information, and so they’re left with misinformation from their constituents.” As to the source of misinformation, she identified “TikTok and China and Russia and our other adversaries.”

“We’re losing the communications war,” she added, to “absolutely horrific rhetoric against Israel, accusing [the country] of genocide, accusing them of occupation, accusing them of white supremacy. It’s beyond recognition. There is no truth in those narratives.”

Addressing widespread calls for a cease-fire, Gillibrand conceded that some of the people calling for one are doing so “because they want innocent lives to be protected,” then added “but they may not understand that if you call for a cease-fire, you can’t get the hostages back.”

Since October 7, the Israeli military has rescued one hostage and accidentally killed at least three others. During a seven-day pause in the fighting in November, more than a hundred hostages were released. Gadi Eisenkot, a member of Israel’s five-man war cabinet, recently told Israel’s Channel 12, “It is impossible to bring the hostages back alive in the near future without a deal” and that those who suggest otherwise are “feeding lies to the public.” Negotiations are currently ongoing for a deal in which the remaining hostages will be released partially in exchange for a two-month cease-fire.

At the close of the January AIPAC meeting, Cornyn was asked what his personal message was to Israel. “Don’t give up hope,” he said. “We are there with you. We are inseparable. And Israel’s future is really the United States’s future.”

“You’re All Mobilized, Too”

While AIPAC has told its donors that Israel is minimizing civilian casualties, critics of the country’s military argue such claims are not credible. Paul Rogers is a professor of peace studies at Bradford University. “One percent of all Gazans have been killed in the space of three months,” he said. “That is an incredible intensity of death.”

In January, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power to prevent the commission” of genocide. The ruling came as a result of a petition brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide.

Adila Hassim, the lawyer representing South Africa, argued that the “level of Israel’s killing is so extensive that nowhere is safe in Gaza.” Civilians “have been killed if they failed to evacuate, in the places to which they have fled, and even while they attempted to flee along Israeli-declared safe routes,” she added. Beyond the military tactics, she noted that civilians are now dying by “starvation, dehydration, and disease.”

According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, Israel is overseeing the creation of a famine by refusing to allow necessary food supplies to enter Gaza via aid trucks in the wake of the widespread destruction of fields, factories, and warehouses. In what may be a drastic undercount, the World Health Organization is estimating that there are more than four hundred thousand cases of infectious diseases in Gaza.

Eva Borgwardt, the spokesperson for the American Jewish anti-occupation group IfNotNow, hopes that AIPAC’s support of Israel in the wake of the Gaza crisis will create an inflection point in the lobbying group’s relationship with the Democratic Party. “AIPAC’s dangerous aim is to convince people that their basic values — equality, freedom, the value of human life — should not apply to the Palestinian people,” she said.

Democrats, Borgwardt argues, have a chance now “to renounce AIPAC, uphold the value that all human life is precious, and say that no more US weapons should go to this Israeli government’s horrific assault on Palestinian life.”

But so far, outside of pushback from a minority, the Democratic Party has remained as stalwart as the GOP in its support of Israel. And for AIPAC, whose mission it is to bolster American support for Israel, these are boom times. In the face of the ongoing military assault on Gaza, AIPAC has a compelling narrative to push on its donors.

During the December donor-only meeting, before signing off, Col. Eisin was asked one more question: “What can we do to help Israel now? What does Israel need from us?”

“You’re listening, you’re engaged, you’re calling, you’re doing what you’re doing in the United States,” Eisin said. “That’s what we need. We need that backing. We can’t be alone. This shouldn’t be Israel alone and it isn’t — because of you.”

She added that after October 7, she was mobilized by the Israeli military, as was her husband and all three of her children. Just that day, the five of them were all together, all back in their military uniforms, and took photos to commemorate the moment.

And through their support for AIPAC, Eisin told the donors, “You’re all mobilized, too.”