Sam Domb - a One-man Organization

NEW YORK - Millionaire Sam Domb finds it difficult to conceal the scorn he feels toward the organized Jewish leadership, which he calls, "political."

"Since the solidarity rally for Israel, which took place in Washington two years ago," says Domb, who is considered a close associate of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, "the activities of the Jewish political community for the benefit of Israel amount to nothing. I cannot recall a single project that the Jewish community initiated in order to display solidarity with Israel during such a difficult period."

Domb blames the apathy of the community on what he calls "the political errors of the Israeli leadership, which brought the catastrophe of the Oslo Accord upon us." The disappointment with Oslo is so great, says Domb, "that many in the community have despaired and sunk into apathy."

Domb derides the leaders and the heads of the Jewish organizations, who courted world leaders during the recent United Nations General Assembly in New York and prided themselves with the meetings they held with heads of state. "Did those meetings improve the situation in Israel by one iota?" he asks.

What do you think of the call by Rabbi Eric Yoffe, president of the World Reform Movement, for the Jewish community to urge the American administration to apply pressure to Israel to dismantle settlements?

"Before Eric Yoffe talks about the settlements, it would be better for him to initiate pressure on French President Jacques Chirac to halt the burning of Jewish schools and synagogues in France."

Domb's acquaintances call him "a one-man organization," due to the scope of his involvement in garnering support for Israel and the resources he invests from his own pocket for financing various initiatives. He quite often takes out huge advertisements in the media, to publish open letters to world leaders, berating them for their unfair treatment of Israel and urging them to refrain from policies that oppose Israel's interests.

In an open letter to Bill Clinton while he was U.S. president, Domb pleaded with his friend in the White House "to let the Jewish people in Israel choose its own fate."

In a letter published over three years ago in The New York Times, concerning the peace process, Domb wrote, "We desperately need peace, but a peace that is good for the whole people and not just for narrow political interests. We need a peace that will unite the people and not divide it."

Under the heading, "An Open Letter to My People," published on the eve of Passover this year (April, 2003) in Jewish newspapers throughout the United States, Domb wrote, "I am a graduate of the class of the 20th century. When I was four years old, I was sentenced to death because I was Jewish."

Further in the letter he laments, "Sometimes, mainly at night, I am restless. After the Holocaust of the Jewish people, here in America, at local universities, swastikas are scored into the doors of the dorm rooms of Jewish students. Students write academic works and claim that the Jewish Holocaust never happened. People forget, and when they forget, the six million die again."

Domb is known as someone who was substantially involved in the organization and financing of solidarity events with Israel. Among other things, in recent years he has been generously supporting the mass rallies expressing solidarity with Israel that are held each year in Manhattan's Central Park to mark Israeli Independence Day.

"He both initiates and offers assistance," says Alon Pinkas, the Israeli general consul in New York. "He puts the facilities that he owns at the consul's disposal for the holding of events."

Domb, who accumulated his great wealth in real estate deals and who owns several hotels, has been known for two decades as an activist in the local Jewish scene. He expresses right-wing opinions, but does not belong to any Jewish organization that promotes a political agenda and stays away from political meetings and gatherings. There are some in the community who remember that 20 years ago Domb was a somewhat controversial figure who aroused derision for his attempts to be conspicuous.

One rabbi and community activist in Brooklyn says that Domb, perhaps without being aware of it, is part of the privatization process of the organized Jewish establishment in New York.

"He is at least rocking the boat in the waters of nothingness in which the community is mired," said the rabbi.

"Domb's activities expose the passivity and apathy concerning Israel that has spread to large sections of the community," says another veteran activist. "The inactivity of the community for Israel's sake in the past three years of the intifada lead us to a sad conclusion that in fact there is no organized community in the traditional and positive sense of the term."

Domb, continued the activist, represents a situation in which individual Jews with means "take the responsibility into their own hands." And fill the vacuum that has been produced.

"Domb is one of the last people on the Jewish street in America who cares about Israel," said veteran journalist Gershon Jacobson, editor of a weekly Yiddish newspaper published in New York. "This caring is very authentic and unconditional."

Many in the Jewish community in New York speak enviously of the close friendship between Domb and Sharon, and also of Domb's connections with leaders of the Labor Party. Domb is also known as a confidante of senior officials and in key positions and power centers in Washington.

Domb and Clinton both happened to be at a private affair held recently in New York. When Clinton saw Domb, recalled another participant at the event, he left the group with whom he was conversing, "hugged Domb warmly and seemed as happy to see him as if he were greeting a family member he had not seen in a long time."

"From my experience," says Pinkas, "I can say that Domb does not flaunt his close ties with Sharon and does not make social use of them."

A veteran Jewish activist from Brooklyn characterized Domb as "the most up-to-date man in New York in everything concerning Israel. If I need specific and up-to-date information on Israel, I call Sam."

The head of one of the Jewish organizations added, "no Jewish leader in New York has a notebook with as many unlisted telephone numbers of senior officials in Israel as Domb does. I would like to take a peek at that notebook."

`Sharon will remove the settlements'

After four telephone calls interrupted my interview with Domb, which took place at one of his hotels, he asked a clerk at the reception desk not to transfer any more calls to him. The first call was from Israeli Education Minister Limor Livnat, who told Domb that she is planning a visit to New York and would like to meet with him. Domb invited her for lunch and asked her to speak at the synagogue at which he prays.

Domb points out a huge photograph hanging on his office wall, showing him sharing confidences with Sharon. "I phone Arik and he phones me," said Domb, but firmly refused to expand on the content of their conversations. When visiting Israel, Domb is a guest at Sharon's Sycamore Ranch, but it is important for Domb to note his close friendship with Binjamin Ben-Eliezer and with Haim Ramon, and that he had been a good friend of Yitzhak Rabin.

As for Domb's estimation of the seriousness of Sharon's peace plan, he says: "If the Palestinians were serious, Sharon's plan would be serious, too," and adds that he has no doubt that Sharon would "get rid of the settlements" in order to promote peace.

Domb declined to relate to the reports of the investigations against Sharon and his sons, saying that he "knows too little about the matter." He also denied that he contributed to Sharon's election campaign. "Sharon did not need a contribution from me in order to get elected," he says.

Domb was the man who, during a visit to Israel in the summer of 2000 promoted the idea of convening a huge Likud rally in support of Sharon in Rabin Square, and says that he even financed the rally.

Domb confirms that he donated to Clinton's election campaign and also transferred contributions to the election campaign of President George W. Bush. "I do not donate to parties but rather to people who support Israel," says Domb, explaining his support for Clinton, the Democrat and Bush, the Republican.

Domb says that he was one of the first Jews to support Clinton's candidacy for president, "even before he officially declared his candidacy." This was after Domb was deeply impressed by Clinton's meeting with a small group of Jews.

Who will win his support in the next presidential elections? Domb says he will support Bush's continued residency in the White House, "because of Israel."

Domb, 65, was born in a small village in Poland. His mother was murdered by the Nazis, and he was saved from certain death, as a child, when he stood in the second row of a group of Jews shot on the edge of a pit. A boy of about 10 grabbed Domb's shirt-sleeve and pulled him aside. "We ran into the nearby forest and the Nazis shot at us but we survived."

Domb came to Israel as a refugee youth, spent a few years on Kibbutz Hanita, served in the Israel Defense Forces and was injured in the Sinai Campaign when the jeep in which he was riding ran over a mine. In the early 1960s, Domb went to New York to visit his sister, the only other member of his family who survived the Holocaust. "That visit," says Domb, "has lasted until today."