Inside Donald Trump's History of Donations in Israel

From a now-defunct playground to irrigation tech for cosmetics: here are the pet projects Trump won’t see on his Israel visit

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport May 4, 2017 in Jamaica, New York.
AFP, Brendan Smialowski

Two playgrounds, a huge park and a reservoir used for irrigating desert jojoba plants.

U.S. President Donald Trump may have to skip these attractions on his one-day visit to Israel on May 22, but money he contributed over the years to the Jewish National Fund helped finance their construction.

According to sources in the Jewish National Fund, an organization that raises money abroad to finance large projects in Israel, Trump was part of a consortium of donors involved in each of these projects. The sources had no information available on the size of his individual contributions.

One playground he helped finance was in the northern town of Yokneam in the Galilee. Another was in Sufa, a kibbutz in southern Israel, near the border of Gaza, which was founded in 1982 by Israelis who had evacuated the Sinai as part of the peace agreement with Egypt signed three years earlier.

It was not possible to determine whether the playground in Yokneam is still intact, but the one in Sufa was torn down quite a few years ago, according to a longtime resident of the kibbutz, because it was deemed unsafe.

U.S President-elect Donald Trump stands next to Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress,  after a meeting at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, December 28, 2016.
DON EMMERT/AFP

Trump was also part of a group of New York donors who financed the development of American Independence Park, a huge wooded area outside the central Israeli town of Beit Shemesh. The park was created to mark the bicentennial anniversary of the United States in 1976.  Aside from picnic areas, scenic overlooks and trails, the park is also home to a memorial to the victims of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster.

More recently, in 2003, Trump was part of a group of New York-based donors who financed the construction of a reservoir in the western Negev to catch winter rainfall that had previously been wasted.  The driving force behind that and dozens of other reservoirs built by the Jewish National Fund around that time was the Jewish-American billionaire Ron Lauder who in recent months has been serving as an unofficial consultant to Trump on Middle Eastern affairs. The water collected in these reservoirs was meant for agricultural use, and in this particular case, providing irrigation for jojoba – a plant from which cosmetics are derived and which thrives in arid climates.

That same year, in 2003, Trump donated $10,000 to institutions located in the West Bank settlement of Beit El. The donation appears in the income tax filings of the Donald J. Trump Foundation for that year and was among the largest his foundation made that year.

In March 1983, Trump, then a relatively young real estate mogul, was the recipient of the prestigious Jewish National Fund Tree of Life Award, which honors individuals and families for their dedication to promoting U.S.-Israel ties and outstanding community work. 

As Haaretz reported last week, Trump contributed at that time to the resettlement in the Negev of Israelis forced to evacuate the Sinai under the terms of the Egyptian peace agreement. A plaque bearing his name, among dozens of other donors, is featured on a commemoration wall in Dekel, one of the communities established with that funding.

A plaque bearing Trump's name on a wall honoring donors who contributed to the resettlement of Israelis living in Sinai.
Zehava Shaked

Asked for comment, a spokesman for JNF said: “JNF respects the privacy of its donors and does not make public their names or contributions without their permission."