Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes’ obsession with a flat tax does not stop at America’s borders: He would like to see it extended to the Jewish state as well.
Continued deregulation and a flat tax in Israel would “instantly have Israel’s economy performing the way its legendary army and air force have done since independence,” Forbes wrote in an editorial in Forbes magazine last spring.
As a newcomer to politics, Forbes has virtually no political record.
Therefore, obscure details such as his call for Israeli tax reform help shed light on the views of the millionaire publisher-turned-presidential aspirant.
Along the campaign trail, Forbes, on a leave of absence as publisher of the magazine bearing his name, has stuck to his single message calling for a 17 percent flat tax.
Like all presidential candidates, Forbes has compiled a book of issue papers that discuss everything from abortion to Yitzhak Rabin. (He is pro-choice and supports the slain Israeli leader’s peace policies.)
But these issues, as well as his defense of immigrants and opposition to school prayer, remain on the back burner of his campaign platform.
A closer look at his writings, his philanthropic links with Jewish causes and his tenure as chairman of the Board for International Broadcasting hint at what a Forbes White House might look like from a Jewish perspective.
Some Jewish fund-raisers solely fear the impact of the candidate’s tax plan.
“Forbes’ plan would eliminate the ability to deduct charitable contributions from one’s taxes. This savings is part of the appeal of donations to our annual campaign,” one fund-raiser for a local federation said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Forbes, however, has defended his plan, arguing that it would bring more money to charities despite the loss of tax benefits.
“When you have a 17 percent flat rate, the tax deduction’s not going to be worth much anyway. So the only way to get more is if people have more. And people will have more,” Forbes told the Chronicle of Philanthropy in a recent interview.
Like all the major GOP presidential candidates, Forbes has attracted the support of some Jewish Republicans.
Supporters tout Forbes as the only viable candidate with moderate social views and a true economic conservative message.
“Put very simply, this man is a mensch,” said Cheryl Halpern, a staunch Forbes supporters and a close family friend from the candidate’s home state of New Jersey.
Halpern, national chairwoman of the National Jewish Coalition, the Republican Jewish organization, praised Forbes’ moderate stances on issues ranging from reproductive rights to human rights.
For Halpern, Forbes “is the only individual who can be considered pro-choice. And that’s important to me as a woman and a voter.”
Richard Fox of Philadelphia, honorary chairman of the NJC, is also backing Forbes.
Halpern worked with Forbes on the Board of International Broadcasting in the early 1990s during a protracted fight to build a U.S. radio transmitter in the Negev Desert.
Forbes’ passion for the U.S.-run radio transmitter in Israel’s Arava Valley in the early 1990s serves as a backdrop to his pro-Israel leanings, Halpern said.
As chairman of the BIB, the government body that oversees Radio Free Europe and Liberty, Forbes took on Israeli environmentalists and U.S. bureaucrats who had sought to derail the multimillion dollar project.
Although the United States and Israel eventually agreed to scrap the project, Forbes’ supporters point to the episode as an example of his resolve, political savvy and pro-Israel leanings.
“The man has a tremendous sense of commitment to any project that he takes on,” Halpern said.
While supporters point to his experience with BIB as an indication of his views on Israel, campaign officials say Forbes’ philanthropic links demonstrate his commitment to Jewish causes.
Last year, the Forbes Foundation, which he oversees, gave a least $10,000 to Jewish charities.
Following in the footsteps of his late father, Malcolm, Forbes continued to contribute money to the Jewish National Fund, the Appeal for Conscience Foundation, B’nai B’rith and Yeshiva University. Montefiore Medical Center in New York also received funds.
Forbes, who has used his magazine column and editorials to condemn anti- Semitism, has distanced himself from extremists loyal to his campaign, officials from the campaign say.
Officials say he has particularly distanced himself from an informal campaign adviser, Thomas Ellis, who served as director of the Pioneer Fund. However, they could not make clear whether Ellis is still involved with the campaign.
Known for its anti-Semitism and white supremacy, the fund, for example, gave grants to a professor who argued that whites are smarter than blacks and advocated paying blacks to be sterilized.
However, Forbes has yet to respond to a letter from the Anti-Defamation League questioning his ties to Ellis.
At the same time, Forbes this week attacked opponent Pat Buchanan during a candidates debate in Atlanta for Buchanan’s past outbursts against Israel and his defense of Nazis.
With wins in Arizona and Delaware and virtually unlimited resources, Forbes has vowed to stay in the race until the party chooses its nominee in August.
For Halpern, that’s good news.
“He has as good a chance of winning the nomination as any of the other men in the race today,” she said.