The Anti-Palestinian Lobby Is Also a Corporate Lobby

A new PAC formed to unseat pro-Palestinian New York socialists is led by the same corporate interests opposed to progressive policies more generally. The battle over US policy toward Israel is also about economic policy at home.

New York governor Kathy Hochul and Representative Jerrold Nadler march up 5th Avenue in Midtown during the Israel Parade on June 4, 2023 in New York City. (John Lamparski / Getty Images)

The pro-Israel spending splurge aimed at unseating the socialist and progressive insurgents who have won office over the past decade is, of course, first and foremost about punishing dissent on US support for Israeli apartheid. But on another level, it’s also a campaign to unseat those lawmakers whose economic vision threatens the bottom line of Wall Street and corporate America.

If you need proof, look no further than the pro-Israel Solidarity PAC in New York, which was recently formed to give a boost to centrist challengers of candidates with a Working Families Party or Democratic Socialists of America endorsement.

Solidarity . . . With the 1 Percent

As New York Focus, which first reported on the PAC’s existence, pointed out, a number of the figures involved in the effort to elect candidates who have “Zionist beliefs” and who “value the American alliance with Israel” are collaborating or have collaborated in the past with Republican operatives.

But they’re also connected to corporate interests that are directly opposed to policies promoted by the politicians being targeted, like taxing the rich and eviction protections for renters.

Nathan Parsons-Schwarz, a Republican operative who is listed as operationally involved with the PAC, also heads a consulting and lobbying firm that works to lower the tax burden on the 1 percent. Two job postings from 2015 for Parsons-Schwarz’s Allegiance Strategies, seeking senior development and government affairs directors for the firm, detail that, if hired, they would be working to “achieve a pro-growth, competitive and inclusive America” by fundraising, lobbying, and taking part in “political giving efforts” to push for “economic freedom issues” important to the firm’s clients. That includes the “repeal of the estate tax and ending the stigma of success in the national debate on tax policy.”

Sure enough, while federal records show that Allegiance has lobbied in favor of immigrant rights and LGBTQ and gender equality over the years, they also show that it was paid more than $170 million between 2010 and 2017 by the Policy and Taxation Group (PATG) to lobby for the “reduction of the maximum federal estate tax rate and ultimate elimination of federal estate, gift and generation-skipping taxes,” as well as “comprehensive tax reform” in Congress more generally.

PATG, founded in 1995, calls itself “the leading advocacy group working to reduce and eliminate” these taxes as well as “blocking increased income tax and capital gains taxes, the creation of a wealth tax,” and other supposedly success-punishing tax policies. It has taken credit for, among other things, weakening tax provisions in the Democrats’ unsuccessful Build Back Better bill. And it’s effectively the same organization as Family Enterprise USA, a pro-business advocacy group; the two groups have the same personnel and for some time had the same address — now they’re just located in the same building. Both groups trade financial sponsorship from a range of wealth management and corporate law firms for access to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

PATG paid Allegiance $860,000 in 2015 alone, during which time Parsons-Schwarz’s firm lobbied in favor of the Death Tax Repeal Act in both chambers of Congress, with the House version passing — something PATG touts as one of its major accomplishments. Also on that list is the doubling of the estate tax exemption contained in the tax cut Donald Trump signed into law in 2017. Allegiance was paid $50,000 by PATG that year to lobby in part for reducing the estate tax and for tax reform more broadly.

Meanwhile, listed as having “operational control over the PAC” is Hal Fetner, president and CEO of New York real estate development giant Fetner Properties. Fetner sits on the executive board of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), a powerful trade association representing the interests of the state’s real estate industry. Fetner Management, one arm of the company, also gave $15,000 to the Real Estate Board PAC between 2020 and 2022, while Fetner Properties gave $618 to the Rent Stabilization Association’s (RSA) PAC over 2021–23, a sign of ideological affinity with the group.

Both organizations have been on the other side of battle lines from New York’s progressive insurgents on several high-profile fights. REBNY and the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA) — which represents twenty-five thousand New York landlords and agents responsible for rent-stabilized properties — were involved in unsuccessfully trying to roll back New York’s rent stabilization laws following the passage of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (HSTPA). Among other things, HSTPA, which was cosponsored by socialist state senator Julia Salazar, blocked the ability of property owners to become exempt from rent regulation by raising rents on vacant real estate.

After failing to prevent then governor Andrew Cuomo from signing HSTPA into law, RSA and other landlord groups sued, with the aim of taking the matter all the way to the Supreme Court. Once there, REBNY filed an amicus brief in favor of repealing the rent stabilization law entirely, though the court decided last October not to hear the case. The two organizations have continued agitating against the 2019 law anyway, recently pushing out a survey of property owners and managers that charged its passage had caused a glut of empty rent-stabilized housing, and further supporting various rollbacks of the measure, like legislation that would let landlords raise the rent on rent-stabilized housing that’s vacant.

REBNY and RSA have likewise opposed the “good cause” eviction bill introduced and championed by Salazar and other left-wing elected officials. The two organizations, which have been vastly more generous to Republican lawmakers over the years, funded an ambitious house-by-house phone-banking campaign to spread misinformation about the legislation and charged that “universal rent control,” as REBNY misleadingly called it in testimony, would lead to worse-quality homes and less housing supply.

The good-cause eviction bill died in 2022, partly after failing to get the support of Governor Kathy Hochul, who had a cannonball of cash fired at her by REBNY and other real estate interests. That included Hal Fetner himself, who gave Hochul $69,000 that year, alongside $58,600 from his wife. (The couple gave Hochul another $18,000 each the following year.)

Besides this, Fetner also sits on the board of trustees at the Citizens Budget Commission, a think tank backed and staffed by various corporate interests. Among other things, the commission has urged Hochul to reduce the state’s budget deficit by making cuts to Medicaid and school aid — cuts that would almost certainly be fiercely opposed by New York’s socialist and progressive lawmakers.

In other words, there is more than enough reason to suspect that Fetner’s involvement in an operation to spend left-wing elected officials out of office is motivated by not just these electeds’ views on Israel but their positions on austerity and tenant rights — and how those might impact his own bottom line.

Meanwhile, as New York Focus pointed out, the New York Solidarity Network — the state-level pro-Israel advocacy group that shares many of its personnel with Solidarity PAC, including the PAC’s treasurer — is backed by billionaire hedge fund manager Daniel S. Loeb. New York’s progressive and socialist members have for years been spearheading a campaign to raise taxes on the state’s richest, including by putting in place a financial transactions tax.

Two Wars in One

Democrats and pro-Palestinian activists have correctly characterized groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as right-wing and increasingly partisan organizations that have cast their lot with not just Republicans but the most fringe elements of the GOP coalition. But that’s only half the story.

The reality is that this pro-Israel lobby is also a conduit for the kinds of oligarchic interests that have long corroded American democracy and blocked commonsense solutions to the woes of working Americans. Failing to defeat them is not just a blow for Palestinian justice but for working people at home, too.