If money talks, Sheldon Adelson was a remarkable example of the truth of that adage.
A businessman, philanthropist and political activist, he deployed his fabulous wealth to promote conservative and Jewish causes in the United States and Israel, his respective birthplace and adopted homeland.
Adelson died on January 11 at the age of 87 from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Born in Boston, the son of East European immigrants, he was instrumental in financing the careers of two highly controversial politicians — Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Israeli prime minister who has been indicted on criminal charges of corruption, bribery and breach of trust and who now faces the prospect of imprisonment, and Donald Trump, the outgoing U.S. president who has the unique dubious distinction of having been impeached by Congress not once but twice.
Adelson, whose personal fortune at last count ranged between $30 to $40 billion, was one of the world’s richest entrepreneurs, owning hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, Singapore and Macau.
A dyed-in-the-wool Republican, Adelson dipped into his deep pockets to finance the election campaigns of George W. Bush, Trump and Mitt Romney. By one estimate, his donations to the Republican Party since 2010 amounted to $500 million, making him the single most generous supporter in its history.
Adelson and his wife, Miriam, an Israeli physician who played a key role in shaping his right-wing beliefs on the Arab-Israeli conflict, donated $20 million to Trump and $180 million to Republican candidates in 2016, thereby helping the Republican Party seize control of the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
At Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. on January 20, 2017, the Adelsons were seated in the VIP section, in recognition of their $5 million contribution to the inaugural committee.
Adelson, who first visited Israel in 1988, helped finance Netanyahu’s first run for the premiership in 1996, when his opponent was Shimon Peres of the Labor Party. Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud Party, defeated Peres by the skin of his teeth, only to be beaten by Ehud Barak in the 1999 election.
In 2008, with Netanyahu plotting to return to power, Adelson launched Israel Hayom, a free daily which evolved into the biggest newspaper in the country. Hewing to a Zionist Revisionist editorial position, Israel Hayom assisted Netanyahu in his comeback as prime minister in 2009. Two years ago, Miriam Adelson took over as its publisher.
Adelson, in 2014, purchased two more Israeli newspapers, Makor Rishon and Maariv, both of which covered Netanyahu fawningly.
In recent years, Netanyahu’s relationship with the Adelsons deteriorated when they discovered he had opportunistically offered to limit Israel Hayom’s distribution in exchange for favorable coverage in the tabloid Yediot Ahronot. From that point forward, Israel Hayom broadened its coverage of Netanyahu’s rivals, most notably Avigdor Liberman and Naftali Bennett.
Like Netanyahu, Adelson was a hard-line Zionist. A foe of Palestinian statehood, he echoed the comments of the former prime minister, Golda Meir, when he falsely declared, “There is no such thing as the Palestinian people. They have fooled the world very successfully.”
Adelson backed a drastically diluted form of Palestinian autonomy, in keeping with Likud policy.
Endorsing the settlement movement, he subsidized Ariel University, the sole Israeli institute of higher learning in the West Bank, and the City of David, an archaeological park in an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Adelson was a driving force in the United States’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to acknowledge Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.
“Sheldon was a staunch supporter of our great ally the State of Israel,” Trump wrote.
Netanyahu said, “He was an incredible champion of … the Jewish state and the alliance between Israel and America.”
Adelson, who is due to be buried in Israel, was a major backer of the Birthright Israel program, which has brought thousands of Jewish students on free organized trips to Israel. And he channelled about $25 million to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and research and education center in Jerusalem.
In short, he used his vast fortune to upend the status quo and facilitate change in the United States and Israel.