Yair Lapid, the Israeli Finance Minister and the brightest political star in the Jewish state’s sky, secretly met American gambling tycoon and dual loyalty political megadonor, Sheldon Adelson last Saturday. What was discussed at the meeting has not been reported, but it is sure to raise eyebrows and fuel speculation.
The first question that comes to mind is: Will Adelson use his newspaper to support the political ambitions of Lapid in the same way he has backed Benjamin Netanyahu? And secondly, does Adelson’s support of the settler project and his billionaire status present problems for Lapid, who purports to be moderate in regard to the Palestinians and who campaigned as an advocate for the middle class?
Mazal Mualem broke the story on the website, Al-Monitor, on May 1.
The intriguing meeting between the popular finance minister and the casino tycoon — who has a right-wing worldview and pulls the strings of Israeli and American politics alike — took place Saturday afternoon [April 27] in Adelson’s luxurious penthouse in a quiet North Tel Aviv neighborhood (a residence most familiar to Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu). It became known to Al-Monitor that Lapid paid a visit to Adelson’s apartment, accompanied by his spouse, Lihi, for an unofficial meeting with Sheldon and his spouse, Miriam.
In his election campaign against Netanyahu, Lapid had been highly critical of Adelson’s use of his free daily newspaper, Israel Hayom,* to heap lavish praise at every opportunity on the Prime Minister. Lapid has correctly called the paper “Netanyahu’s house organ.”
Mualem details Lapid’s biting criticism of Netanyahu’s support for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, in which Adelson was a huge financial donor.
… [I]it is interesting to go back to the interview given by Lapid to the army radio station Galei Zahal in September 2012, when the election campaign was in the offing and Netanyahu’s relations with Obama had reached a nadir. At the same time, the prime minister supported Obama’s Republican rival, Mitt Romney, almost publicly. Romney had also won Adelson’s favor and respectable monetary contributions to the tune of tens of millions of dollars to the Republican election campaign. As we all know, the casino mogul “bet on the wrong horse.” This is what Lapid said: “With his own hands, Netanyahu destroyed what Israel has maintained over 64 years. Israel had never been associated with any American party, but Netanyahu brought us close to the Republican Party, because Sheldon Adelson financed it, because he knows Mitt Romney. And now we are stuck because Obama, who it seems will win the elections, treats Israel like a branch of the Republican Party.”
But politicians and donors can quickly forget past disagreements if new realities make it mutually beneficial. Lapid’s new-found popularity and the very real possibility that he will be Israel’s next prime minister make an Adelson investment in this Israeli political meteor quite understandable. Although Lapid is considered by many Israelis to be a centrist on the Palestinians, he has not said anything which would lead to the conclusion that he will not support business as usual. Despite his claim that he wants to promote negotiations with the Palestinians, Lapid has made a political alliance with the ardent settlement supporter and unilateralist Naftali Bennet.
Lapid was particularly reticent concerning peace issues during the election, so Adelson may see that deference and his partnership with Bennett as indications that Lapid will end up as all other past Israeli leaders, supporting the settlements.
According to the news site Mako (Hebrew), Merav Michaeli, an opposition member of Parliament (Labor), took Lapid to task on her Facebook page for the secrecy of the meeting and the Finance Minister’s subsequent silence on what was discussed. Michaeli questioned why Lapid, who ran for office as a champion of the middle class, would “make a pilgrimage to the home of a foreign nobleman.”
Since we do not know anything about what was said at the meeting, it would be premature to speculate on any future alliance between Adelson and Lapid. However, Mualem makes one interesting observation.
Anyone looking for a possible immediate effect of the “summit meeting” can find it in the news report that appeared on the Internet site of Israel Hayom yesterday afternoon [April 30]. The author described Lapid’s first appearance before the Finance Committee that approved the state budget, and did not skimp on the superlatives. The headline says, “Lapid scored a successful premier debut at the Finance Committee,” and the story’s lead says “he survived his first baptism by fire.”
Until now, glorifying descriptions of this type in Israel Hayom were reserved in Israel for one person only — Benjamin Netanyahu.
And until recently, the front lines between Lapid and Israel Hayom-Adelson were tense to the point of being hostile.
Lapid, in my opinion, is a kind of empty suit, false hope-peddling politician who would personally benefit from Adelson’s largesse and the support of Israel Hayom. Adelson, who may soon be dubbed an American Israeli kingmaker, could be prepared to back two rival Israeli politicians – one for the present and one for the future.
Update: The Israeli credit rating was downgraded and Lapid is being blamed by analysts and politician including Netanyahu. The Israel Hayom headline on Friday read, “Yellow Card to Lapid – and to the Economy.” Here is an English version of the story from Adelson’s paper.
* Not only is the Hebrew print addition of Israel Hayom the highest circulation newspaper in Israel, but its web edition contains a free fully formatted exact and complete version of the print edition. Click here and then click the newspaper page graphic on the top left to see this elegant rendering of today’s paper.