The controversy over two gay New York City entrepreneurs helping out Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz’s campaign just won’t die—and that’s a good thing. The row is highlighting the hypocrisy of advocating for civil rights at home and seeking to deny them abroad. And yet the coverage has focused mostly on the hypocrisy of gay businessmen supporting an anti-gay politician, less about the hypocrisy of why they do. Let me explain.
In late April, The New York Times reported that Mati Weiderpass and Ian Reisner, a pair of hoteliers with a small empire of gay-oriented businesses, hosted a meeting at their Manhattan penthouse for Cruz. They introduced Cruz to a business partner who makes political donations. Weiderpass and Reisner made for curious matchmakers: two openly gay businessmen lending a hand to a politician who has, in the words of the Human Rights Campaign, “consistently opposed equality for LGBT Americans.” The backlash from New York’s gay community came swiftly. Activists announced boycotts of Weiderpass and Reisner’s businesses, and hasty Facebook apologies ensued.
The national political press covered the flap extensively. More than a month after the meet, the tide of press has yet to subside—just last week the Times ran a feature on the row, a web item noting Reisner’s own maximum donation to Cruz (which he subsequently got returned) and an opinion piece incredulous that the gay duo were unaware of the breadth Cruz’s virulent anti-gay stances.
Less attention, however, has been paid to what sparked the meeting in the first place. Rich businessmen might be a natural constituency for Republicans, but Weiderpass and Reisner didn’t cite Cruz’s tax policies in their public remarks. Instead, the meeting, the introduction to the donor and Reisner’s own short-lived campaign donation were predicated on one issue: Israel.
In an interview with New York magazine, Reisner said the meeting was explicitly set up to introduce Cruz to Sam Domb, the business partner whom the Times described as having “raised considerable funds for pro-Israel politicians.” (“I know Sam would love to meet [Cruz] because Sam has all his views on Israel,” a sometime consultant to Cruz on matters of Israel reportedly said.) Same with Reisner’s direct donation: “I gave Senator Cruz a $2,700 check to show my support for his work on behalf of Israel,” he said.