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Jewish Real Estate Leaders React To Trump's 'Brutal Killers' Comments

New York

President Donald Trump called Jewish people who work in real estate “brutal killers” this weekend, sparking widespread accusations of anti-Semitism — and criticism from prominent members of New York’s commercial real estate industry.

President Donald Trump

Trump, a native New Yorker, made the comments in a speech saying Jews “have no choice” but to vote for him, since one of his possible opponents in next year’s presidential election, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, has proposed a tax on the wealthiest Americans.

“A lot of you are in the real estate business, because I know you very well. You’re brutal killers, not nice people at all,” he said during a 45-minute speech at the Israeli American Council’s national summit in Florida on Saturday. “But you have to vote for me — you have no choice. You’re not gonna vote for Pocahontas, I can tell you that. You’re not gonna vote for the wealth tax.”

Warren — whom Trump has called “Pocahontas” for years to mock her controversial claims of native heritage — is campaigning on a plan, which she calls the Ultra-Millionaire Tax on her website to apply a yearly 2% tax on every dollar of net worth above $50M and a 6% tax on each dollar over the $1B threshold. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another top contender for the Democratic nomination, is also campaigning on a wealth tax.

Trump’s comments raised the ire of various Jewish groups, who labeled them as anti-Semitic and suggested he was inflaming hurtful tropes and stereotypes. Trump also told the audience — made up largely of members of the IAC, which supports stronger Israeli-American relations — that “you’re going to be my biggest supporters because you’re going to be out of business in about 15 minutes if they get [the wealth tax]. So I don’t have to spend a lot of time on that."

Though Trump targeted his comments at Jews in real estate, few of the city’s real estate leaders were keen to address his comments. Bisnow reached out to more than 15 real estate players and industry groups, many of whom declined to speak or did not respond.

Those who spoke out, however, did not mince words.

“He appears to be a very disturbed person and unfit to be President,” Durst Organization Chairman Douglas Durst told Bisnow in an email. Durst, the grandson of Austrian-Jewish immigrant Joseph Durst, the family development business’ founder, reportedly backed Hilary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Jeffrey Gural, the chairman of GFP Real Estate and former head of Newmark Knight Frank — and a member of the executive committee of the UJA Federation — described the comments as “insulting.”

“He may be a brutal killer, but I consider myself a nice person and I am sure anyone who has done business with me would hopefully agree,” Gural wrote in an email. “On the other hand, I never take what he says too seriously as he is great at marketing.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaking at a Democratic Party event in Iowa on April 20, 2019.

While Trump’s comments were seen as anti-Semitic, some also took issue with his assessment of Warren’s plans and assumption that Jewish people oppose paying more in taxes.

“No one is taking 100% of our wealth. Most real estate people I’ve dealt with are nice and are more than happy to pay their share of their taxes for a better America,” MHP Real Estate CEO David Sturner said. “The people I deal with have swayed more Democratic in their views over the past two years, and that’s in no small part due to the president’s actions and words.”

Sturner, who is Jewish, added that he was surprised by the Trump’s comments, considering he had been part of the city’s real estate community for so long. In September, Trump switched his primary residence from Manhattan to Palm Beach in Florida.

The Jewish Democratic Council of America called Trump’s comments “deeply offensive,” according to the Washington Post, while the American Jewish Committee said on Twitter that there should be a better way to appeal to Jewish voters than “by money references that feed age-old and ugly stereotypes. Let's stay off that mine-infested road." 

Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks tweeted that critics of the speech should “get over yourselves,” adding that Trump “literally talks about” the wealth tax in these terms “at every rally.”

The Real Estate Board of New York declined to comment on the speech, as did the Young Jewish Professionals group.

The president, whom House Democrats say obstructed justice and abused his power in two draft articles of impeachment released Tuesday, has had the support of many major real estate figures, some of whom are old friends, throughout his presidency.

Related Chairman Stephen Ross, who is Jewish, drew widespread criticism earlier this year for hosting a fundraiser for Trump, and Trump appointed Jewish real estate power players Steven Roth and Richard LeFrak to an infrastructure advisory council early in his administration.

The council was disbanded after Trump made comments defending white nationalists after violent clashes erupted on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.

Trump still has the backing of many in real estate, including some prominent Jewish figures, partly because he has presided over a growing economy and cut taxes and regulations.

“In my last 48 years in this country, I have never seen a business environment and economy as good as today,” Moinian Group Chairman and founder Joseph Moinian, an Iranian Jewish immigrant, told Bisnow. “You could say that President Trump is not the most popular with the majority, but he has been very good to the economy.”

CORRECTION, DEC. 13, 10:30 A.M. ET: An earlier version of this story misstated elements of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's proposed Ultra-Millionaire Tax. This story has been updated.