“He gives more money to Israel than the U.S. government.”
A friend, who has worked for Sheldon Adelson, the third-richest man in the United States, behind Buffett and Gates, offered that analysis recently. It’s not quite accurate—no one provides more aide to Israel than the United States—but it wasn’t far off either.
Adelson’s Israel-related charity is overwhelming to the point that it could whitewash even the most blemished biography, not to make any implications of Adelson’s. Fifty-five million dollars to birthright israel over the past two years to finance first trips to the Jewish state for tens of thousands of diaspora Jews; $25 million to the Holocaust museum Yad Vashem; $4.5 million for a think tank.
But Adelson’s reach hasn’t been limited to charity. In fact, some say he uses money to meddle in Israeli politics, pushing a right-wing vision void of a peace process through his connections with American politicians—Bush called the Republican donor “some crazy Jewish billionaire”—and his free daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, which observers criticize as being stuffed with propaganda for Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
At a formal dinner attended by more than a hundred senior officials of various Israeli and Jewish organizations, guests were offered the opportunity to tell Peres what they considered the biggest challenge facing the Jewish people. Adelson, according to Ha’aretz, declared, “I think Jews should have lots of sex. That is the solution to our demographic problem.”
After Adelson addressed the conference, Nahum Barnea wrote in his column in Yedioth Ahronoth, “I saw a gambling tycoon from Las Vegas who bought my country’s birthday with three million dollars. I thought with sorrow: Is the country worth so very little? Were the champagne, wine and sushi that were given out for free in the lobby—breaking convention for such events—worth the humiliation?” Barnea went on:
Adelson is a Jew who loves Israel. Like some other Jews who live at a safe distance from here, his love is great, passionate, smothering. It is important to him that he influences the policies, decisions, and compositions of the Israeli governments. He is not alone in this, either; even back in the days of Baron Rothschild, wealthy Jews from the Diaspora felt that this country lay in their pocket, alongside their wallet. Regrettably, in the latest generation, we are being led by politicians who look at these millionaires with calf’s eyes.
In Israel, where political, academic, and business leaders tend to be outspoken, there is a striking reticence at the mention of Sheldon Adelson. Even people who are diametrically opposed to his politics refuse to be interviewed. “There is a discernible amount of self-censorship going on,” the liberal Israeli-American writer Bernard Avishai said. “There is no ideological justification for what Sheldon is doing among the Israeli intelligentsia—and a revulsion at an American weighing in so heavily on Israeli politics, in such a crude, reactionary way. But they won’t speak.”
These details come from Connie Bruck’s masterful and revealing profile of Adelson for this week’s New Yorker. It’s been getting a lot of buzz for its insight into the mindset of a right-wing American Jew whose love for Israel spans from his Lithuanian father too poor to set foot there to his sabra wife. But what really shocked me was a portion a little closer to home for Adelson, whose non-union Venetian was in 1999 being picketed by the Culinary Union:
Las Vegas’s Temple Beth Sholom was holding a dinner to fête the new mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman. Adelson, a member of Beth Sholom, had recently pledged two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to the temple’s new-building fund. The dinner was to be held at the Venetian, but Mayor Goodman said that he would not cross the picket line, and synagogue officials decided to go elsewhere. Adelson excoriated Beth Sholom’s rabbi, Felipe Goodman. Rabbi Goodman told the Review-Journal that Adelson had been “so verbally abusive. I was very upset because no one had ever talked to me like he talked to me.” After the dinner took place at the Four Seasons, Adelson withdrew his pledge to Beth Sholom. He gave large sums to the local Chabad, a branch of the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitchers, for the construction of a new center.
Yeah, that’s mature.
Clearly, Adelson does a ton for Israel and world Jewry, but at what cost? Or, to turn an old question on its head (and possibly incite a nasty response from Team Adelson): Is Sheldon Adelson good for the Jews?