The news that Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have given $50 million to Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund this cycle and that the Adelsons are planning to spend up to $50 million on Trump’s reelection bid has increased scrutiny of the casino mogul who exercises such influence over foreign policy.
California Congressman Ted Lieu says Adelson got Trump to reverse himself on coronavirus relief by promising $50 million. Adelson is a “billionaire creep,” says former Obama aide Tommy Vietor. And former ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer tells the Daily Beast that the Adelsons are a “malign” influence, supporting “the most right-wing politics here and in Israel.”
Sheldon Adelson is actually “a social liberal,” by his own description. He supports a woman’s right to abortion and promotes stem-cell scientific research.
If he is undercutting women’s rights today it’s because he cares about something else more. “I’m a one-issue person. That issue is Israel,” he said in 2017, per Pro Publica.
But Joe Biden is the most pro-Israel nominee for president “ever,” Democratic leaders boast. So why does Adelson want Trump reelected?
Adelson has two pro-Israel agendas: One is defeating any prospect of a Palestinian state. The other is getting the U.S. to attack Iran.
Adelson has been an utter victor on one front: over 20 years he has helped defeat the Oslo peace process.
Getting the U.S. to attack Iran hasn’t gone as smoothly for him.
Trump appears to be dangling an attack on Iran as a way to please Adelson, going back to his assassination of an Iranian general in January or his appointment of Iran hawk John Bolton as national security adviser in 2018. Just this week the U.S. announced more “sweeping” sanctions against Iran, and the stagecraft was designed to reach Las Vegas:
“The fact that four cabinet officers—the Sec of State, the Sec of the Treasury, the NatSec Adviser & the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.—made the announcement this morning of additional sanctions against Tehran is a pretty good visual of how much Washington inflates the Iran threat,” observed Daniel DePetris of the National Interest.
Eli Clifton said it was aimed at Adelson: “I’m sure the song and dance didn’t hurt with the president’s biggest donor who favors a first strike nuclear attack on Iran.”
Adelson urged Obama to nuke Iran in October 2013 at Yeshiva University in New York:
What are we going to negotiate about? I would say ‘Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.’ …You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘OK let it go.’ And so there’s an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles, the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever. Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development.’
Adelson has been urging an attack on Iran since 2007, according to a New Yorker profile the following year:
Adelson was dismissive of Reza Pahlevi, the son of the former Shah… because, Adelson said, “he doesn’t want to attack Iran.” According to Dayanim [Pooya Dayanim, a Jewish-Iranian democracy activist based in Los Angeles] Adelson referred to another Iranian dissident… Amir Abbas Fakhravar, whom he said he would like to support, saying, “I like Fakhravar because he says that, if we attack, the Iranian people will be ecstatic.” Dayanim said that when he disputed that assumption Adelson responded, “I really don’t care what happens to Iran. I am for Israel.”
Trump killed the Iran deal in 2018, just a few days after “the Adelsons gave $30 million to the super PAC that is seeking to keep Republican control of the House for the remainder of Trump’s term,” Pro Publica reported. “The following day, Adelson met with the president at the White House.”
Adelson is very close to Trump. “He just calls the president all the time,” Alan Dershowitz told Pro Publica.
Trump himself said last year that of all his pro-Israel actions, Adelson was most appreciative of his trashing the Iran deal:
I said to Sheldon, “What do you think was bigger? … Israel and the embassy going in, and it became Jerusalem, the capital of Israel? Or the Golan Heights [recognition as Israeli territory]?” He said, “Neither.” I said, “What do you mean ‘neither,’ Sheldon?” He said, “The biggest thing you did for Israel was breaking up and terminating the horrible, one-sided, catastrophic deal that was made by President Obama.” Right?
As for Palestinians, Adelson been working against a Palestinian state since at least the Clinton era peace process in 2000, when he helped form the organization One Jerusalem, and he’s had quite an impact. He helped elect George W. Bush with that understanding and got angry with Bush when his secretary of state pushed in the second term for a Palestinian state at the Annapolis conference, which an Adelson-funded organization referred to as “the Munich Conference of the 21st century.”
The New Yorker reported:
Adelson protested to Bush that [Condoleezza] Rice was thinking of her legacy, not the President’s, and that she would ruin him if she continued to pursue this disastrous course. Then, as Adelson later told an acquaintance, Bush put one arm around his shoulder and another around that of his wife, Miriam, who was born in Israel, and said to her, “You tell your Prime Minister that I need to know what’s right for your people—because at the end of the day it’s going to be my policy, not Condi’s. But I can’t be more Catholic than the Pope.” (The White House denies this account.).
Adelson has often expressed intolerant ideas about Palestinians. They are “not a people.” They are merely “southern Syrians.” In his own words in 2013:
I think it’s unwise to trade land for peace… It’s more unwise to trade land for peace with a people who are not a people.
There’s no such thing as a Palestinian. Do you know what they are? The Palestinians call themselves southern Syrians. They were the Syrians who were left over from the district of Syria that was so named in the Ottoman Empire… There’s no such thing as a Palestinian people. They have fooled the world very successfully.
Adelson has also made bigoted comments about Muslims; they just want to kill Jews and they can’t be trusted:
Here’s a good compromise… I can imagine a meeting between an Israeli Jew and the Muslims. ‘Muslims, you want to kill 100 percent of the Jews. We don’t want you to kill anybody. So let’s compromise. We’ll surrender half the Jews so you can kill them.
And the other half of the Jews will stay alive. So both of us get a compromise. You can’t get everything you want! But we get some of what we want!’ It’s ridiculous. These people espouse the destruction of the Jewish people worldwide and the state of Israel. When they talk about the little Satan and the big Satan, this is not conjecture… they really mean it….
In their culture and in their religion… why do they say the men who become martyrs go to heaven and they meet up with 72 virgins? I can never figure out what the virgins did to deserve that. [laughter]
And he’s likened Palestinians to Nazis:
Nobody believed Hillel Kook when he came to this country and tried to convince Roosevelt that millions of Jews were being gassed. Nobody believed him…. So I think to go and allow a Palestinian state is like playing Russian Roulette with yourself. Because one day the bullet’s going to come out and it’s going to kill you. They hate us, they don’t want us alive. If they really wanted peace, somewhere, somehow in the last 65 years they would have moved one millimeter toward the Jewish demands.
Adelson said in 2014 that Israel doesn’t need to be a democracy, according to Pro Publica: “I think God didn’t say anything about democracy. He didn’t talk about Israel remaining as a democratic state.”
And Adelson has expressed regret that he served in the American army and not the Israeli one.
Somebody said that the Adelson family has nothing to gain [with its philanthropy] except that which is in our heart. I am not Israeli. The uniform that I wore in the military unfortunately was not an Israeli uniform, it was an American uniform. Though my wife was in the IDF and one of my daughters was in the IDF [and my son is going into the IDF]…
It is amazing to consider that such rightwing influence has largely gotten a pass from the media over the last 20 years. It was said that Adelson wanted to hold off on 2020 contributions so he wouldn’t become an issue in this year’s campaign. Let’s hope he is one.