President Donald Trump’s statements that “both sides” were at fault in the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, were troubling to philanthropists who give money to organizations that hold events at Trump properties, including Mar-a-Lago.
And especially so for Jewish donors and philanthropic groups particularly offended and unnerved by images of torch-carrying neo-Nazis and white supremacists chanting “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.”
Indeed, a prominent organization that provides money for disaster relief in Israel is among seven charities that have said they will not hold a fundraising gala at Mar-a-Lago this season in the wake of Trump’s comments on Charlottesville.
The American Friends of Magen David Adom issued a terse statement to the Palm Beach Post Thursday evening, announcing the cancellation of its gala, previously set for Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018.
In interviews with charity benefactors, the sentiment was that Trump — in defiantly blaming “many sides” for the mayhem in Virginia and suggesting there were many “fine people” at the white supremacist-organized events — crossed a line.
Donors said they were initially appalled when Trump first said both sides were at fault in the violence, then two days later condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists, only to defiantly backtrack on Tuesday by doubling down on his “both sides” comments.
“The tide has turned against Trump,” one philanthropist said. “His inability to respond to the neo-Nazis, the KKK and others is so egregious, I think people find this intolerable.”
As a result, the philanthropist also expected Trump to see more Jewish supporters and Jewish philanthropists start to break from him. Many Jewish residents of Palm Beach County have family members who perished in the Holocaust.
“When you get into the area of anti-Semitism, global anti-Semitism, it transcends all the other issues, like health care and immigration,” the philanthropist said. “The issue is so raw now, I think you will see people bail.”
The philanthropist spoke to the Palm Beach Post before the American Friends of Magen David Adom decided to cancel their 2018 event. Last season’s gala, held Feb. 26, featured more than 600 attendees who paid $650 per ticket for the event.
“After considerable deliberation, AFMDA — an apolitical and humanitarian aid organization — will not hold its 2018 Palm Beach Celebration of Life Gala at Mar-a-Lago.” Magen David Adom (MDA) is Israel’s ambulance, blood services and disaster-relief organization, serving as emergency medical first-responders.
No further information was available about whether AFMDA would try to hold an event elsewhere in Palm Beach County during the season.
Richard Rampell, a Palm Beach CPA, said the issue of philanthropy is very important to those of the Jewish faith.
The Hebrew word, “tzedakah,” often is used to describe charity. But the word means much more, Rampell said.
“It means righteousness and justice,” he said. “Giving is not viewed as a generous or magnanimous act, but as an obligation.”
Nowhere is this belief more evident on Palm Beach than at the Palm Beach Country Club, created by the Jewish community after members were excluded from other clubs on the island.
Rampell said he is not a member of the Palm Beach Country Club, but he has friends and clients who are. Membership is not even considered unless an applicant can demonstrate years of generous philanthropy, Rampell said.
Palm Beach Country Club members are among the most generous contributors to cultural, medical and other organizations, Rampell said.
And Palm Beach overall has become a center of philanthropy for many national organizations during the winter season.
For a number of organizations, a Palm Beach gala is the single-largest fundraiser they hold. But hosting these elegant affairs costs big money, especially at the two premier Palm Beach locations, The Breakers Hotel and Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.
Therefore, charities canceling at Mar-a-Lago are sending a loud message to Trump, Rampell said.
“Money is something that Trump understands, more than anything,” Rampell said.
Rampell said the same dynamic is starting to play out at Mar-a-Lago as was seen recently with Trump’s manufacturing council, where Merck’s chief executive quit, followed by several other top executives.
When one charity decides to cancel an event at a Trump property, others are emboldened, Rampell said.
“Everyone is afraid to make the first move. You need a leader with a lot of stature,” Rampell said, noting that Cleveland Clinic, the first to cancel, has a lot of stature.
When other organizations see a leader act, “other people will follow,” Rampell said.
Indeed, hours after Cleveland Clinic announced it would not hold its charity event at Mar-a-Lago, the American Cancer Society also announced it would not have its gala there. Five more organizations then followed.