A pro-Israel charity has scheduled a fundraiser gala at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in March — choosing that venue in hopes that Trump “would be able to stop by,” the charity’s founder said Thursday.
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which is based in Chicago, works to support the state of Israel, primarily through fundraising from evangelical Christians. In a recent Washington Post story, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who leads the fellowship, said the organization is the biggest philanthropy in Israel, and has brought some $1.5 billion in donations from Americans since the 1980s, primarily for social programs to helping Jews around the world emigrate to Israel.
Eckstein said the group decided last fall to hold a gala in Palm Beach, Fla. He said they were choosing between two sites — including Mar-a-Lago — for the March 25 event.
Mar-a-Lago, he said, had a deciding advantage: the possibility of a presidential visit.
“We’re not making a political statement — pro-Trump [or] against Trump,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday. But, he said, “If there is a possibility … that the president might also come to say hello and offer greetings, then that’s an advantage. So I think that was kind of what determined it.”
The group’s decision was first reported by the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.
Eckstein said that his group’s biggest funders — and the likely attendees at the gala — were pleased by Trump’s policies toward Israel, especially his recent order to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“These people are going to be standing and giving an ovation to President Trump if he comes,” Eckstein said.
He said the gala could attract 400 or more people, each paying $1,000. Eckstein said he believed that the Trump Organization, which owns Mar-a-Lago, would charge his group $418 per person — meaning that the club could take in $167,000 or more.
That event is the latest sign that Mar-a-Lago’s social calendar — and its entire business model — have been rearranged by Trump’s tumultuous first year in office.
The club once attracted a steady stable of nonpolitical charities, which rented the club’s ballrooms for gaudy fundraiser galas during Palm Beach’s wintertime social “season.” But last year — after Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides among the crowds during violent protests in Charlottesville — at least 19 of those old customers fled.
Now, in their place, the club has appealed to a new set of customers — drawn in, not repelled, by Trump’s politics. Earlier this season, a group of pro-Trump socialites called the Trumpettes USA held a charity-style gala with no charitable intentions: They wanted Trump to keep most, or all, of their money.
Other new clients at Mar-a-Lago have included the Republican National Committee, the Republican Attorneys General Association and two religious charities, The Truth About Israel and the Christian Broadcasting Network. Those religious groups, like the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, have applauded Trump’s policies toward Israel.
In this case, Eckstein said he hadn’t been given any guarantee that the president would be at Mar-a-Lago on the night of his gala. The White House press office did not respond to a query about whether Trump intended to be at the club that weekend.
If Trump does drop by, Eckstein’s group would have literally paid the president’s company for some of the president’s time.
He said he didn’t think of it that way.
“I don’t connect it. I don’t know of anyone who connects it, the two dots. I don’t even know what his real financial relationship is … with Mar-a-Lago,” Eckstein said. “What I see there is a hotel. A hotel that is of distinction, that I’m not going to boycott just because it’s owned by President Trump.”
Mar-a-Lago is a private club, not a hotel, though it does offer a few guest rooms.
Eckstein was asked: Did he intend to return to Mar-a-Lago for this gala, year after year?
Not necessarily, he said.
“Maybe next year, to kind of show the balance, we might have it at the Breakers,” another venue in Palm Beach, he said.