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August 10, 2012

On Adelson vs. NJDC we are all losers

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/on_adelson_vs_njdc_we_are_all_losers_20120810/

Photo

Sheldon Adelson attends Mitt Romney’s key speech in Jerusalem, August 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

Forgive me for looking at this from a lofty height, and for being ‎so boringly establishment-minded: But Sheldon Adelson vs. the ‎National Jewish Democratic Council is not just a bitter personal battle ‎between a philanthropist of the right and an organization of the left. It ‎is a battle between Jewish leaders. ‎

It is a battle that threatens to make Israel, yet again, a wedge issue both ‎in the American political arena and within the American Jewish ‎community. It is a battle that is unhealthy for Jews and for Israel. It is ‎one in which we, as a community, are all losers. And most of all: it is a ‎battle over nothing – no issue of any importance is being debated here, ‎no ideological goal of any consequence is being pursued. Most of us ‎have no dog in this fight. We might be politically inclined to agree with ‎one side of the other, but this fight isn’t about the political issues of the ‎day. ‎

Jewish casino mogul and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson has charged ‎the National Jewish Democratic Council with posting “maliciously false ‎and defamatory” information related to him. On its web site, the NJDC ‎accused Adelson of having “approved of and profited from ‎prostitution” at his Macau casinos. It urged Republicans not to receive ‎his “tainted” money. That Adelson is angry should come as no surprise ‎whatsoever. ‎

Adelson demanded an apology – and was apparently rebuffed. “Under ‎pressure from Jewish groups, the NJDC removed an online petition ‎calling on Republicans to stop accepting money from Adelson—but it ‎would not apologize”. If fact, they made matters worth by insisting that ‎the original posting was based on credible information. ‎

Adelson decided to take legal action. He “filed a $60 million libel lawsuit ‎in federal court on Wednesday” against the Democratic group. I wish ‎he hadn’t – I wish he’d have decided to laugh off this bit of irritation. ‎This mud fight is not an easy one to watch, but short of deciding that ‎he’s willing to see his name defamed, I’m not sure what other choices ‎were open to Adelson. The day after he sued, NJDC’s “lay leader called ‎on the litigious billionaire to drop his ‘silly’ suit and debate him on the ‎issues instead”. I’m not sure how such debate is supposed to solve the ‎problem: Adelson was not suing NJDC over differences of opinions; he ‎is suing for being personally defamed by the group.‎

Almost a year ago, Adelson received an apology from an Israeli news ‎organization. Channel 10’s Friday night news magazine Ha’shavua was ‎forced to apologize after a 20-minute profile of Adelson included two ‎things that upset him: a claim by an interviewee that Adelson owed him ‎money, and a suggestion by another interviewee that Adelson had ‎received special treatment from the Gambling Commission in Nevada. ‎The battle was quite ugly. Some journalists quit in protest, others ‎complained to the station owners. They said that Adelson’s lawyers – ‎people who aren’t always easy to deal with, especially for a TV channel ‎in financial trouble whose owner, Ron Lauder, wanted it to apologize - ‎dictated the wording of the humiliating apology. ‎

In the end, Adelson won that battle, and got his apology. That many ‎Israelis felt the whole affair was treated with a heavy hand may not ‎matter to him – most of these were probably Israelis with a low regard ‎of Adelson to begin with. To them, he symbolizes Benjamin ‎Netanyahu’s grip on power. Both his demand for an apology from ‎Channel 10 (whose news programs are most critical of the Prime ‎Minister), and his financing of Israel Hayom - the comically pro-‎Netanyahu free Israeli daily - seem to them like an attempt to stifle ‎public debate and silence criticism. Other Israelis – those more likely to ‎be supportive of the Netanyahu coalition and less hostile to Adelson - ‎probably felt that the time had finally come for reporters to be held ‎accountable for their mistakes. ‎

So instead of this becoming a detailed debate of the issue itself (Was ‎Channel 10 mistaken? Was it an honest mistake or a malicious attempt ‎to smear Adelson?), what we got was a political battle with all the usual ‎suspects positioning themselves exactly where one would expect them ‎to. The “left” with Channel 10 News, and the “right” against the channel ‎and for Adelson. ‎

One would hope that in Adelson vs. NJDC things would be different. In ‎such a volatile political atmosphere, anyone’s gut reaction is to support ‎their own “camp”. Democrats will reject demands for an apology, ‎claiming that, yet again, Adelson is trying to silence the debate. NJDC ‘s ‎response to the lawsuit seemed to go in such a direction: “We will not ‎be bullied into submission, and we will not be silenced by power. This ‎is not Putin’s Russia, and in America, political speech regarding one of ‎the most well-known public figures in our country is a fundamental ‎right”. Republicans will say that Democrats should not be defending a ‎personal smear campaign against a right-wing philanthropist. ‎

The details will be lost in the fog of battle – the simple details on which ‎this whole matter stands. Did he or didn’t he? Did they or didn’t they? ‎

If the organization is ready to prove the allegations made on its website, ‎that’s fine. But if – as I strongly suspect - it made an error of judgment ‎for which an apology is advisable, it should promptly find a way to ‎apologize and be done with it. ‎

Clearly, such an apology is somewhat uncomfortable. Adelson is the ‎political archenemy, and an apology would be followed by much ‎gloating by Jewish Republicans that would also be painful for NJDC ‎supporters (I hope they will refrain from gloating, but I know they ‎won’t). So this isn’t easy - but one should bear in mind that the DCCC ‎has already apologized for the same allegation, and was a little ‎embarrassed about it. ‎

In the end though, the real damage wasn’t that significant. The apology ‎didn’t make President Obama less likely to win reelection. Moreover: if ‎NJDC truly wants to debate the “real issues” as it so claims, the table ‎should be cleared of all the not-so-real issues. ‎

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