All Hype, No Substance: How Trump's Real Estate Projects in Israel Fell Flat

The Republican front-runner has looked at this and that deal, which were trumpeted up and down the land but no, he hasn't built the tallest tower in Tel Aviv.

Donald Trump.
AFP, Daniel Tchetchik

Donald Trump is indeed a global deal maker, investing flamboyantly outside the United States, including in the Arab world. But he's never done a deal in Israel.

That isn't necessarily because he isn't the friend of Israel he claims to be or because of pressure from the Arab world, where he does business. Actually, in 2006, land really had been bought for a Trump Tower in Israel.

Technically the land was bought by a company called Crescent Heights, which grabbed up the iconic Elite chocolate factory in Ramat Gan for $44 million. The site is as prime as it comes: on the border of Tel Aviv, and across the street from the Diamond Exchange. The plan was to build a 70-story skyscraper bearing the Trump brand.

In keeping with the business baron's sky-high ambitions, it was to have been the tallest building in Israel.

"Trump works through all sorts of avenues. He wasn't going to build here personally," explains Arik Mirovsky, real estate editor of TheMarker. "He was going to work through a local contractor."

The iconic Elite chocolate factory in 1999
Moti Kimche

His agreement with Crescent was for Trump to promote the tower and get 25% of profits from unit sales, as well as other commissions.

By 2007, the dream was dead. Crescent sold the site onward for $80 million to a company called Azorim, which itself planned to build a tower there (and never did either).  In 2008 Trump sued Crescent in a Manhattan court for allegedly stiffing him by selling the land in violation of their agreement.

He lost. The contract with Trump stated that Crescent "‘intends to build’ and never indicated that it promised to build," Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Herman Cahn pointed out.

So much for the Trump Tower in Ramat Gan. Lesser-known stabs at business in Israel that went nowhere include the Trump Hotel extravaganza in Netanya and the Trump Golf Course in Ashkelon.

The monster project that wasn't

The Netanya hotel complex was naturally supposed to be an extravagant monster project: city mayor, Miriam Fireberg, said Michael Dezer, a business associate of Trump's, visited the city "three times on his private jet and was planning to build a number of hotels on 38 acres of empty seaside real estate", USA Today reported in 2005. A cool half-billion dollars was to be spent.

Trump hadn't been the only real estate magnate the city was trying to attract to build hotels, following a spate of terror attacks. But in 2008, when the State of Israel's land authorities finally issued a tender to build a new hotel in the upscale part of Netanya, on 48 dunams of land, nobody bid. No-bo-dy.

In 2008, Trump's daughter Ivanka, then 26 and a member of the property baron's strategic development team, dropped by Israel to study the real estate market here, after closing a deal in Dubai. "I would absolutely love to build a tower in Israel," she told Haaretz Television at the time. "I think Tel Aviv is a tremendous city." It is, it is, but a Trump Tower it does not have.

Ivanka Trump visits Israel to scout property prospects YouTube

Come mid-2013, the Donald, who doesn't talk about things by halves, announced plans to build a "world class" golf course in Ashkelon, next door to the Nitzanim nature reserve, complete with resort village, convention hall, country club, and shops. Trump himself wrote to the mayor of Ashkelon, "I have great affection for Israel and its people, and I believe that Israel is a worthy place to be included in the list of communities which host Trump golf centers."

Maybe so, but a golf course has not arisen. At least not in Ashkelon. Trump is in the process of building two in Dubai, for instance. (As of press time, Ashkelon's response to the fate of the project had not arrived.)

Anybody who does as much business as Trump, in as many countries as Trump does, will run into difficulties. That's statistics. But then there's the special Donald touch.

Bloomberg reported last week that Trump himself claims his organization to be negotiating more than 100 deals of which 85 percent are outside the U.S.  He has done some pretty flamboyant deals in the Arab world, where his business partners and the general public took umbrage at his anti-Muslim rhetoric during his election campaigning, a tactic that Arab extremists even used for their own recruitment purposes.

In December the Trump brand name had to be removed from the Dubai golf course, though the deal with the Donaldic golf course operators remains on track, apparently. Nor are the Turks in love with his commentary, it seems. "Such statements bear no value and are products of a mind that does not understand Islam, a peace religion, at all,” Bülent Kural, the manager of Trump shopping mall in Istanbul, told the Guardian in December.

Whatever Trump's problems in the Arab world, he never did get into trouble in Israel - he never, ultimately, did any business here. But it isn't for lack of trying, at least a little bit.