Top Silicon Valley donor cites anti-Israel left in his shift from Biden to Trump in 2024

Tech adviser Jacob Helberg cites the growing influence of the anti-Israel left as a major factor in his political evolution

Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

Jacob Helberg speaks during The Hill & Valley Forum Dinner at The Library of Congress on May 1, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

When Jacob Helberg decided in 2020 to start making major political contributions for the first time, it was a no-brainer for him to choose Democrats. A tech expert who was beginning to make a name for himself in Silicon Valley, Helberg donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to President Joe Biden’s 2020 general election campaign and that of scores of other Democratic candidates.

Four years later, he’s still shaping up to be a big donor in this year’s presidential race, but this time to former President Donald Trump’s campaign. It’s a change that Helberg said has less to do with a shift in his own thinking than a shift in the Democratic Party that he does not support.

“It became very clear that an organizing principle on the left increasingly became based on a divvying up of the world between oppressors and oppressed,” said Helberg, who serves as a senior policy adviser to Alex Karp, CEO of the technology firm Palantir. “It’s just an organizing principle that I fundamentally disagree with.”

Helberg has donated $1 million to Trump’s campaign so far this year, The Washington Post reported this week. He told Jewish Insider in an interview that much of the way he views politics comes down to his relationship with Judaism and the way he was raised: Helberg grew up in Paris, where his maternal grandparents moved after leaving Tunisia; his American father’s parents survived the Holocaust.

“I was struck by how America never had an awkward relationship toward religion or Jews, and I always found that to be such a breath of fresh air. I think everyone at the end of the day yearns to belong,” Helberg said. 

But now, after Oct. 7, “for the first time in my lifetime, I feel like a lot of the thin crust of civilization that separates today’s world from the dark world of yesterday is going to unravel in some really scary ways,” he said. “You’re seeing that with these incredibly dark, antisemitic protests on university campuses, in the streets of Dearborn, Mich., and these slogans that are somehow gaining popular attraction.”

In Helberg’s view, it is the younger generation of Democrats that is rising up the ranks in the party that became “incredibly militant,” and he began to feel out of place. He has cited many of the culture war issues that have become hot-button topics for conservatives lately — affirmative action, “wokism,” “anti-Western ideology.” 

“I realized that I had a choice. I could either try to remain in the Democratic Party, to try to be a voice to bring it back to the center, or I could simply join a party that more closely aligned with my views,” said Helberg. Growing up as a Jew in Europe, he watched Jewish family members develop “thick skins” and simply deal with antisemitism. 

“I’m a big believer in the basic idea that life is always tough, and people shouldn’t throw themselves pity parties. I think they should do something about it,” he said, “which is ultimately why my basic approach has been, I’m not going to stay in the Democratic Party and whine all day that I’m completely out of step with everyone in my party.” 

Part of his rationale in switching his support to Trump has to do with Israel and antisemitism. Helberg tweeted last week that “American Jews who still support Biden should have their heads examined.” But he acknowledges that part of it is economic, too — he doesn’t support Biden’s approach to taxation, particularly a proposal to raise the capital gains tax rate to 44%. 

As a China hawk, Helberg has also found his views on that issue more in line with the Republican Party. But he still works with Democrats — Helberg was one of the major behind-the-scenes architects of the bill forcing the Chinese parent company of TikTok to sell the popular app or face it being banned in the U.S. 

He thinks American Jews need to be much more concerned about China, and about TikTok.

“The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is, in my view, philosophically antisemitic and politically anti-Israel. They are anti-religion, they philosophically despise the fact that Jews have been around longer than, arguably, Chinese civilization, definitely longer than the Chinese Communist Party. And politically, they view Israel as an American option in the Middle East,” said Helberg, who added that TikTok, with its close ties to China’s government, “directly promotes virulently antisemitic content.” 

Helberg said he never felt what he described as “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” which he said he saw in many other Silicon Valley liberals. He didn’t name any issues where he diverges from Trump, but rather said his biggest concern about deciding to support the former president was a fear of disapproval from his social circles. (Helberg, who worked on election integrity and misinformation at Google from 2016 to 2020, declined to say whether Trump’s stance on the 2020 election was a concern for him.)

“My basic viewpoint is that many folks in academia and the media and in polite society don’t like Trump’s table manners and his style. But when you actually focus the discussion on his policies, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a lot of people giving you pushback,” said Helberg. “My biggest doubt was I was concerned about the backlash, I would say, and being the target of a lot of very militant folks on the left.”
Helberg’s husband, Keith Rabois, a prominent venture capitalist, is a longtime conservative, although Rabois didn’t publicly support Biden or Trump in 2020. Some big Silicon Valley names have shifted to the right in recent years, most prominently Tesla founder Elon Musk.

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