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The Problem With Sheldon Adelson

It’s not his politics; it’s his influence

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Sheldon Adelson in 2010.(Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)

When you fill in your bracket for the NCAA basketball tournament this March, the optimal strategy will be to pick a plausible longshot as your champion. It’s simple: You could pick one of the favorites, but many others in your pool will as well, and your chances of having outcompeted them in the rest of your bracket are slim; pick the champion right, and you will probably win.

It’s important to understand that the enticing prospect of anointing an outsider surely played some roll in Sheldon and Miriam Adelson’s decision to very publicly donate $10 million to a pro-Newt Gingrich Super PAC this month, thereby almost single-handedly materially and politically keeping Gingrich in the race for the Republican nomination. Frontrunner Mitt Romney’s campaign and his Super PACs have outspent Gingrich’s in Florida, whose primary is tomorrow, four to one. So it’s just like your bracket. If you give money to Romney, you’ve probably picked the winner, but you’re just another drop in the bucket—he doesn’t owe you particularly much. Give to Gingrich, you’ve probably picked the loser; but if he wins, he owes you. In this case: what?

“People who know him,” the New York Times reported yesterday of Adelson, the multibillionare casino magnate, “say his affinity for Mr. Gingrich stems from a devotion to Israel as well as loyalty to a friend. A fervent Zionist who opposes any territorial compromise to make way for a Palestinian state, Mr. Adelson has long been enamored of Mr. Gingrich’s full-throated defense of Israel.” (The definitive take on Adelson remains Connie Bruck’s 2008 profile. Incidentally, the definitive take on Gingrich is probably her 1996 profile.) It is true that as early as 1995 Gingrich was pushing for things like the law (now waived by three successive presidents) that would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But it’s not like Romney is a dove on Israel (“Governor Romney is exactly right,” Gingrich said at Thursday night’s debate after the frontrunner spoke about Israel). And Wayne Barrett has argued, persuasively, that Gingrich was actually well to Adelson’s left on Israel at various points over the last decade—among other things, he went from acknowledging that Palestinian nationhood does indeed exist to, notoriously, denying its existence last month, a line quickly echoed by Adelson himself. (Never mind that AIPAC and, at least, publicly, the Netanyahu government are to Adelson’s left in their willingness to entertain the notion of negotiating with Palestinian leadership.) It seems that Gingrich has campaigned, and promised to govern, in ways designed to land him Adelson’s money. In the post-Citizens United world of unchecked giving to ostensibly unaffiliated but strikingly on-message Super PACs, this is incredibly important.

Frequently, this blog takes stories that are seemingly not Jewish, grabs the tiny strand that is Jewish, pulls real hard, and tries to argue that the whole story is, in fact, in some suggestive or implicit or even metaphorical way, Jewish. The Adelson-Gingrich story is the opposite: it seems very Jewish (or at least Israel-related), but it really isn’t. Gingrich is almost certainly not going to be the nominee; Romney is likely to crush Gingrich by double digits tomorrow in Florida, the first state in the Republican primaries with a voting population remotely resembling the country’s (and the first, it should be said, with lots of Jews), and go on to win the nomination. The chief danger heralded by the Adelson-Gingrich relationship aren’t the particulars of Adelson’s politics. It is the prospect of an individual being willing, able, and legally permitted to fund an entire campaign and essentially to purchase an elected office. Adelson isn’t breaking any laws; you can even argue that in disclosing these donations—the disclosures are part of the point, they served a political purpose for Gingrich, but still—he is being more honest than many of Romney’s big donors. I’ll even grant that this sort of power can be used for good: Adelson apparently exerted his influence to ensure that observant Jews can vote in the Nevada caucuses Saturday. Doesn’t matter. The system stinks.

Adelson failed, this time. Will he next time? Will someone else? It isn’t a question of being good or bad for the Jews. It’s bad for practically everybody.

The Man Behind Gingrich’s Money [NYT]
Is Gingrich’s Hard Line on Palestine Paid For By Sheldon Adelson? [The Daily Beast]
Related: The Brass Ring [The New Yorker]
Earlier: Backed By ‘Shelly,’ Newt Takes S.C.

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In other words, Adelson is taking a long shot at buying the presidency by backing someone whose record shows that he is for sale.

FromReformtoMasorti says:

If the $$ adelson is wasting on a losing bet had instead been spent on say funding community day school education, or funding year long israel programs for young Jews, or such like, it would probably be a more practical help to Zionism.

Marc R says:


You’re a terrific journalist, but you’re simultaneously overthinking and underthinking this one.

If, as everyone agrees, Adelson and Gingrich are longtime friends, is it really surprising that he has supported him in this way? Adelson gives away a great deal of his money. This $10MM, though objectively large, is a small fraction of the money he gives annually.

By the way, you state that Adelson and his wife “very publicly” donated this money. I don’t recall a public statement from either of them in connection with this donation, do you? It was disclosed, yes, but does that make it very public?

You may also want to look closer at that Wayne Barrett article you favorably cited. If you read the article by Gingrich that Barrett cited, you can clearly see that there has been little, if any, rightward move by Gingrich.

Marc R says:


“If the $$ adelson is wasting on a losing bet had instead been spent on say funding community day school education, or funding year long israel programs for young Jews, or such like, it would probably be a more practical help to Zionism.”

You’re in luck. As yesterday’s NYT stated, Adelson is a highly generous financial supporter of both of those causes. Don’t worry, he won’t run out of money or a willingness to donate it.

Bill Pearlman says:

Marc R is right. Adelson comes from a time and place where loyalty counted. And you didn’t sell out a friend when things got tough. Qualities that are lacking in this day and age.

Avrum Fine says:

The fact that Adelson riles so many liberal Jews makes him my hero.

Geoff M says:

You didn’t seem to be too bothered by Soros’ money helping to bankroll Obama’s campaign. Funny that. I guess Soros is the right kind of Jew.

K Roseman says:

I have no sympathy or respect for the “gaming” industry. It promotes corruption and waste. Sheldon Adelson is a Jewish equivalent of Donald Trump and I do not care for either of them. They both have acquired too much political and economic power and have zero environmental consciousness.

“It is the prospect of an individual being willing, able, and legally permitted to fund an entire campaign and essentially to purchase an elected office.”
And George Soros, whose aim in Eastern Europe was entire countries, and who conceals his involvement in American (and Jewish — JStreet) politics? But basically the argument is nonsense and contemptuous in a progressive way of voters: they can be bought and cannot understand politics. Both the Romney and Gingrich superpac ads in FL are over the top, and Romney’s possibly worse. But the polls — and interviews — tell their own story: republican voters are not happy with Romney and at the same time are not sold on Gingrich. It’s not that they want a colony on the moon; they don’t want Romney in the White House. In the end they will vote for him because four more years of Obama is worse. We voters aren’t stupid, but our choices are limited at the presidential level.

Eran Spiro says:

Just looking at his photograph, he doesn’t look Kosher Never mind his yetzer hara.

I like that pic. Shelly in his Nixon moment with Pat Buchanan.


FromReformtoMasorti says:

@ marc R

The article does not mention day schools, and the Israel program is Birthright – I was thinking of the smaller, but person for person more effective year long programs, like Year Course, Aardvark, Nativ, etc.

Anyway, its nice he gave to birthright. So give more to birthright – any $$ spent on a losing bet is lost. Assuming thats why he gave to Newt.

FromReformtoMasorti says:

“A fervent Zionist who opposes any territorial compromise to make way for a Palestinian state,”

Which means there will be one state between the Jordan and the sea. Which will have an arab majority. hence it won’t be a Jewish state.

How is this man’s zionism “fervent? Call me old fashioned, but to me Zionism is about creating and maintaining a Jewish state, not being as negative towards Arabs as possible. Being more anti arab, to the point of endangering the Jewish character of the state, does not make one MORE zionist than people who would compromise.

Its interesting that the headline of this article claims that “its not his politics; its his influence” that is of concern, but I have never seen a similar complaint about Haim Saban, Steven Rattner, Barbara Streisand, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Google, Microsoft or any of the other large monied supporters who helped elect Barrack Obama. There is nothing particularly unique about Adelson other than the fact that he is a Jew who has made a large contribution to a Republican. If “it’s not his politics” why the very sudden interest in this “problem?”

It would be better to focus on the anti-semetic trope that runs through and forms the basis for the entire NYT article, which Tablet is perpetuating — that Adelson’s interest in the election is driven by his devotion to Israel and has little or no other significant interest in the outcome of this election. The exclsuive source of the NYT front page article: “People who know him.” As a wealthy industrialist, Adelson no doubt has many motivations — not the least of which might be the fact that Gingrich’s principal Republican opponent promises to start a trade-war with China (where Adelson has his most valuable business interests) on his first day in office. The article simply reinforces what anti-semites already think: that Jewish americans owe allegiance to Israel first, and that lynchpin forms the basis for all of their political beliefs and efforts.

lumiere says:

I fixed Marc Tracy’s wording to reflect his real problem with Adelson:

“It is the prospect of a Jewish individual being willing, able, and legally permitted to fund an entire campaign and essentially to purchase an elected office.”

Phil N says:

I much more concerned with the million and half Gingrich got from Freddie Mac. A quasi government corporation lobbying is beyond the pale. At least Mr. Adelson was doing it with his money. Freddie Mac used mine!

Jack Klein says:


Is Tablet bankrupt of intelligent contributors? I have worker for both parties and never seen any politician be bought by a contributor or a contribution. Is this freshman 101 that fails to see that the ego of most politicians cannot be overcome by any single issue contributor; it is bound by the desire to be recognized and the terror that the electorate will reject them for an unusual stand on some arcane vote.
As for influence it is usually in the eye of the contributor and seldom in that of the recipient.

Klein is Right says:

Jack Klein is right — the negative attention to Adelson from the Guardian, The New York Timnes, and Tablet are all anti-Semitic.

Rabbi Tony Jutner says:

President Obama will win in 2012, with 97% of the Jewish vote and 75% of the total popular vote. He will finally have a mandate from the people to confiscate the assets of Adelson and Romney and redistribute them to the people

…just as George Soros is also bad for our political system, but I await either the NY Times or Tablet or the New Yorker to come up with THAT editorial commentary. For that matter, I await with baited breath the voicings of concern about Obama’s billion dollar war chest.

George says:

I don’t recall similiar ‘concern’ appearing in the Tableton on the wide influence of George Soros on the Democratic party and its media allies.

Perhaps Sheldon Adelson is a normative billionaire, but he’s not a normative Jewish millionaire. I found that today’s Jewish millionaires tend to side more with the Occupy movement, e.g. Jewish millionaires were disproportionately represented on the Patriotic Millionaires “tax us” petition. George Soros is more your typical Jewish millionaire that you bump into day to day.


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The Problem With Sheldon Adelson

It’s not his politics; it’s his influence

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