Sam Altman, founder and CEO of OpenAI, tops the list of this year’s “50 Most Influential Jews,” published yearly by The Jerusalem Post. Altman is followed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At number 3 is U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Since September, and after the attack by Hamas and the subsequent revenge bombardment of Gaza, Netanyahu and Blinken may well have changed places in terms of true influence.
Commentators believe that the Hamas attack effectively means the end of Netanyahu, who was already facing criticism and opposition for proposed judiciary reforms. The most significant change in ranking goes to comedian-turned-President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, who was number one last year but has been dropped from the list completely this year.
Explaining the reasons for Blinken's high ranking, the paper writes: “As someone who is both Jewish and the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken would make this list no matter what. But one can argue that he is the first openly and proudly Jewish U.S. secretary of state in that he always knew he was Jewish, identified as such, and has never tried to downplay his Jewishness to stay in favour. (Though, in Henry Kissinger's defence, it was a different era.)”
Blinken comes from a family of Zionists and staunch supporters of Israel. His grandfather, Hungarian Jewish immigrant Maurice Blinken, founded the American Palestine Institute after the Second World War and was instrumental in convincing the American government that a Jewish state must be established and that it would be easier to support millions of Jews than the 600,000 of that time.
In a speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Summit in June 2023, Blinken proudly recounted his and the U.S. administration's support of Israel.
“We are providing $3.3 billion in foreign military financing to Israel each year. On top of that, Israel receives $500 million in funding for missile defence. Tens of millions more for new counter-drone and anti-tunnelling technologies. That is in keeping with the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding negotiated by the Obama-Biden administration – and it is more than at any point in the history of our relationship. We’re also delivering an additional $1 billion in funding to replenish supplies for Israel’s Iron Dome, the missile defence system that we developed together and that has saved countless lives,” Blinken said.
In addition to underlining the military and financial support, Blinken’s overtly pro-Israel speech strongly reaffirmed the enduring partnership between the United States and Israel, symbolised through significant military and financial backing. He also detailed the Abraham Accords and the Negev Forum, presenting a vision of increasing Israel's integration with its Arab neighbours, and taking a tough stance on Iran with a commitment to preventing it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
AIPAC, which was rebranded from the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs (AZCPA), is the largest and most influential pro-Israel lobby in the United States. It has a staff of over 200 people and an annual budget of over $100 million.
According to OpenSecrets, a nonprofit organization that tracks money in politics, AIPAC's political action committee (PAC) donated $2.5 million to candidates in the 2022 election cycle. Of that amount, $1.3 million went to Democrats and $1.2 million went to Republicans. AIPAC's super PAC, the United Democracy Project (UDP), spent more than $26 million in the 2022 election cycle, mostly in Democratic primaries. The UDP supported candidates who it viewed as strong supporters of Israel and opposed those who it viewed as critical of Israel. In the 2024 election cycle, AIPAC and the UDP are expected to continue donating heavily to both Democrats and Republicans.
The list of the 50 Most Influential Jews includes many other internationally well-known individuals, such as Janet Yellen, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, at number 11; Jan Koum, co-founder of WhatsApp; and Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Meta, sharing the 13th place. Included are “influential toy innovators” Ynon Kreiz, CEO of Mattel, and Ruth Handler, z'l, inventor of the Barbie Doll; Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich at number 16; and Andre and Audrey Azoulay, Moroccan King's Adviser and UNESCO Director-General at number 30. Morocco was the first Arab country normalising relations with Israel under the Abraham Accord. Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin occupies a ”postscript” place, number 52, in this year’s list of influential Jews.
Interestingly, prominent jews who are critical of Israel, are missing from the list. Here are a few worth mentioning:
An American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist, Chomsky is also known for his criticism of Israeli government policies, particularly regarding the Palestinian territories.
The U.S. Senator from Vermont and former presidential candidate has been openly critical of certain Israeli government actions, particularly those perceived as exacerbating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He advocates for a more balanced U.S. policy in the Middle East.
An American philosopher and gender theorist, Butler has expressed criticism of some Israeli policies and is a prominent advocate for Palestinian rights. She supports boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movements against Israel.
An American journalist, political commentator, and author, Beinart has written extensively on Israel and Jewish-American issues. He has criticised Israeli government policies and advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This Canadian author, social activist, and filmmaker, known for her political analyses and criticism of corporate globalisation, has also criticised Israeli policies, particularly regarding the Palestinian territories.
An American political scientist, activist, professor, and author, Finkelstein is known for his work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his criticism of Israeli government policies.
An Israeli writer known for his short stories, graphic novels, and scriptwriting for film and television, Keret has also voiced criticism of Israeli policies, particularly those that exacerbate tensions with Palestinians.