TEL AVIV – World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder announced that he was pledging $25 million of his own money to launch a new organization aimed at rooting out antisemitism in American politics, the New York Times reported Monday.
The report comes on the heels of a visit by the cosmetics mogul and billionaire philanthropist to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the weekend.
Lauder told Israel’s Army Radio that in 15 years of knowing Merkel, he had never seen her as visibly moved as she was during the visit to the death camp. The two held a conversation under the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” – Work Will Set You Free – sign at the camp’s gates.
“We spoke about what she felt,” Lauder said. “She was very, very emotional. You could see the effect it had on her.”
Lauder described the visit as a “very, very historic day.”
He lauded the German government’s recent decision to designate the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group as a terrorist organization.
“It was a very important move,” Lauder said, adding that it was only made possible by Merkel’s efforts.
He further praised the German leader for pledging 60 million euros ($66.6 million) towards the preservation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial.
“We’re three generations away from the Holocaust and many, many people have forgotten it,” he said. “I cannot believe so many years have passed and people still have anti-Semitic feelings.”
Lauder cited a recent poll he commissioned that found that 27 percent of Germany’s general public have what he referred to as “anti-Semitic feeling.”
“That’s an amazing number,” he said. “Especially for a country like Germany where there should be no anti-Semitism at all.”
The news comes on the heels of similar polls commissioned by the WJC president as part of his new A.S.A.P., a U.S.-based politically-oriented effort to fight anti-Semitism.
A.S.A.P., which stands for the Anti-Semitism Accountability Project, is a super PAC and nonprofit hybrid that targets politicians on both sides of the political aisle peddling in anti-Semitic tropes, Lauder told the Times.
“Although I am a lifelong Republican, anti-Semitism knows no political party. I’m going after the right as well as the left,” Lauder said.
A.S.A.P. aims to identify anti-Semitism in political races across the country and will employ political campaign tactics including TV and radio ads and local events in the districts of offending politicians, the report said.
Of the four freshmen Democratic congresswomen known as “The Squad,” comprised of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Lauder expressed his wish “to sit down and talk to them.”
The four have come under fire for expressing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment.
Lauder’s new organization will also target universities and their professors that take “an anti-Semitic point of view,” he told the newspaper.
“Either stop it,” Lauder warned, “or we’ll go after your donors.”
The report also cited a new poll commissioned by Lauder that found that that around one in six Americans hold some measure of anti-Semitic beliefs, including people who claim that the Holocaust is a myth or has been exaggerated (14 percent), that Jews have “too much control over the American government” (18 percent), or “too much control over global affairs” (17 percent).
“Very scary,” Lauder said.
Lauder did not draw a correlation between the spike in anti-Semitism in recent years and Donald Trump’s presidency. On the contrary, Lauder said, “I don’t believe there is an anti-Semitic bone in his body.”
“He set the record straight, as far as I’m concerned, in front of the whole nation,” he added, referencing Trump’s remarks in the State of Union address in which he said “We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed.”
Speaking to Army Radio, Lauder described Israel’s current political climate as a “balagan,” the Hebrew for “mess.” Lauder said it was imperative to stop a third election from happening.
“I was in 40 countries in the past year. All these countries look to Israel as a stable, safe place,” Lauder said but added that the current political unrest gives people a reason to fear for the Jewish state.
“The diaspora right now needs Israel more than ever and they need a strong Israel and they need an Israel with a strong government,” Lauder concluded.