(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Jerusalem Post has put together its annual list of '50 most influential Jews' who have impacted the world last year, and have the potential to affect change in years to come.
The GOP’s – and Israel’s – controversial bankroller
He’s outspoken and a natural comedian who delivers hilarious and sometimes outrageous one-liners off the top of his head. As a boy in Boston, Sheldon Adelson delivered newspapers.
Today the casino mogul owns one – the most widely circulated Israeli newspaper, Israel Hayom, and is one of the wealthiest people in the world, always ranking in the top 10 on Forbes’ lists of affluence.
In an email interview with The Jerusalem Post, the ardent Republican spoke about growing up poor, his love of Israel and his unequivocal support for the GOP.
The millions of dollars he contributes to Republican candidates for the US presidency is legendary.
At press time, he has yet to name the candidate that he will be supporting in the 2016 elections, but he did recently host the annual conference of the Republican Jewish Coalition at his Venetian Las Vegas hotel and casino. The event headlined by several media outlets as the “Sheldon Primary,” had a strong Israel undercurrent.
According to reports, Adelson shelled out $93 million in the 2012 campaign and plans to spend even more on the 2016 election.
Aside from direct contributions to the Republican Party, Adelson has brought numerous Republicans to Israel. “The Democrats have taken the Jewish community for granted,” he says, but he has been an instrument for change in recent years. He and his wife, Miriam, have brought almost 200 Republican lawmakers to Israel, and have helped to open their eyes to what Israel is all about. Republicans these days convey the impression that they are far more pro-Israel than their Democrat colleagues. Adelson is convinced that this will pay off in the ballot box.
Never afraid to speak his mind, Adelson, in a panel discussion at Yeshiva University last October, was asked by moderator Rabbi Shmuley Boteach whether America should negotiate with Iran if its ceases its nuclear enrichment program. “What are we going to negotiate about?” he responded. Adelson outlandishly theorized on the possibility of an American official calling up an Iranian official, suggesting that he watch, and subsequently dropped a nuclear bomb in the middle of the Iranian desert, with the threat that the next one would be in the middle of Tehran.
The idea was to show the Iranians that America means business.
Though generally even-tempered, Adelson appears to relish controversy and to prove his accusers wrong. He takes a tough stand with media personalities whose reports he feels have besmirched his reputation, and so far he has come out ahead.
When Adelson established Israel Hayom in July 2007, the common belief which found expression in many media outlets was that he had done so to boost the policies and popularity of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yediot Aharonot publisher Noni Mozes went so far as to rename Adelson’s newspaper and call it the “Bibiton,” a hybrid of Netanyahu’s nickname and the word “Iton” which is Hebrew for newspaper.
“Nothing is further from the truth,” Adelson says.
During a political discussion with friends in Israel, he concluded that their ideas were removed from political reality.
As the conversation progressed, Adelson learned they all got their information and opinions from the same source – Yediot Aharonot. Adelson decided to found a newspaper that would be “fair and balanced.”
He didn’t think that Yediot was as far-left as Haaretz, but that it was nonetheless too far to the left to be balanced.
Adelson said that he wanted to give the public another option with regard to being informed. He also didn’t like what he called Yediot’s reward and punishment strategy, dished out on the one hand to personalities favored by the publication, and on the other coming down hard on those with whom the paper found fault.
There was a failed attempt last year, allegedly fueled by Mozes, to pass a law to stop the free-of-charge distribution of Israel Hayom. The proposed legislation pertained only to Israel Hayom even though other dailies are also distributed for free.
Adelson is an extraordinarily generous philanthropist and with his Israeli wife and partner, Dr. Miriam Adelson, is committed to giving all young adult Jews around the globe the possibility of revolutionizing their lives through an intensive, multi-experience 10-day visit to Israel, and they have consequently contributed more than 1 billion NIS to Birthright.
As long-time donors to Yad Vashem, their gifts included a $25m. donation towards the construction of the Holocaust history museum and a further $25m. for the educational programs that Yad Vashem provides for schoolteachers from numerous countries to enable them to teach Holocaust history and to debate Holocaust deniers.
Asked if he were given three wishes for Israel and the Jewish people, what they would be: Adelson replied: “Instead of three wishes I’ll summarize it in three words that have only one meaning: ‘Am Yisrael Hai’ [The People of Israel Lives]. This will also be written on the spaceship that the Israeli team of bright youngsters is now preparing in the race to launch a spaceship on the moon. The project is called SpaceIL, and it will demonstrate to the world the ability of Israeli hi-tech, that I had the honor of assisting in its first steps as the owner of the world’s largest computer exhibition: Comdex. When the spacecraft hopefully lands on the moon the whole world will see the words ‘Am Yisrael Hai.’” Adelson said he and his wife will continue to do whatever they can “to ensure the existence of the Jewish people and the State of Israel that proves that dreams can become a reality.”
Adelson often recalls seeing his cab driver father put coins in the Blue Box of the Jewish National Fund every evening. When he was about 10, he asked his father why he did this, and his father explained that it was a charity box, the proceeds of which went to poor people. When he persisted with his questioning, his father told him that giving to charity was one of the things that Jewish people do. “We always have to help people who are less fortunate than we are.” Adelson’s father made him promise that when he grew up he would follow his example and put money in the pushke every day.
The mogul in Hillary’s corner
On paper, Haim Saban’s impressive acumen as a media mogul and philanthropist with a reported net worth of $3.4 billion should land him on any list of distinguished people. However, it is his financial support of Hillary Clinton’s American presidential bid that differentiates him from being a mere well-intentioned philanthropist to a kingmaker.
As an Israeli-American, Saban prides himself on strengthening the bilateral relations between the two nations. To that end, he founded the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, with former US ambassador Martin Indyk as its founding director; it is part of the prestigious Brookings Institution.
The organization’s annual Saban Forum gathers Jerusalem and Washington’s elite to discuss that crucial strategic alliance.
As the largest individual donor to the IDF, Saban’s involvement with the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces annual gala, where Hollywood’s A-list comes together, is an example of Saban maximizing his philanthropic and Tinseltown connections for the greater good of the Jewish state.
In a interview via email with The Jerusalem Post, Saban spoke about his support for Democratic hopeful Clinton, frayed Jerusalem- Washington ties and the precarious nature of the P5+1 deal with Iran, set to be finalized next month.
While the road ahead for Israel may be perilous, one thing is for certain: Saban is determined to put his money where his mouth is, to lend his support to the Jewish state and its security.
How do you see yourself as effecting change in the US, Israel and the world?
My wife, Cheryl, and I did not grow up in situations of privilege, and the struggles we faced in the past play a central role in our outlook on the world today. We are very fortunate to be in a position where we can give back to our community, and we take this responsibility very seriously.
This responsibility is what drives us in our efforts to make our community a better place in a variety of ways. It means improving the welfare of my city, Los Angeles; my country, the US; and my heritage, the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
My passion for enhancing my community’s well-being is the pillar that guides me in my business, my political support and my philanthropy.
What do you think is the main challenge facing the world in the next year?
We live in a tumultuous world; practically everywhere you look, you see pockets of turmoil. We face a slew of global problems, from the threat of global terrorism and instability in the Middle East to violence on Russia’s borders and an increasingly assertive China.
In my view, this is why our most important challenge and opportunity is ensuring that the US remains the one true global power to guide us forward. It is through American leadership that we can tackle the geopolitical and global difficulties of our time.
As you know, tensions between Israel and the US have dominated headlines this year. What do you think needs to be done to mend ties between the nations?
It’s no secret that President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have had their fair share of disagreements.
However, I think it’s important to take a step back and recognize that the US-Israel relationship is much bigger than any two people. We see a strong Jerusalem-Washington partnership at work on multiple levels, from shared intelligence and long-standing military assistance to critical cooperation on energy and water technologies.
Ultimately, this isn’t the first time there has been tension between these two allies, and it likely won’t be the last. But I think the vice president put it best at a recent Independence Day celebration when he said, “Sometimes we drive each other crazy. But we love each other, and we protect each other.”
If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, how do you think she will diverge from Obama administration positions?
We have yet to see all of Hillary’s detailed positions, and I will not give anything away. However, one thing I know: Hillary will be great for Israel. I have known Hillary for more than 20 years, and her record of support for Israel has been consistently strong.
From her time as first lady to a leader in the Senate to secretary of state, Hillary has been a steadfast defender of Israel’s interests. She will be a fantastic president for the US, an incredible world leader and one under whom the relationship with the US and Israel will be significantly reinforced.
What are your thoughts about the Iran deal, due to be finalized in June?
As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and it is too soon to tell what the outcome of the final, technical negotiations will be until they end in June. Ultimately, if the final agreement includes real and meaningful concessions by the Iranians along with strong inspection and enforcement mechanisms, appropriate phasing of sanctions, and strict limitations on research and development, then we must give it all due consideration.
A nuclear Iran is unacceptable. And if a final agreement credibly pushes Iran far away from this pathway, especially in contrast to the current status quo, then we must seriously consider it.
Obama is pushing for peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel to resume. What do you think are the chances of this happening? What do you think must be done differently this time around?
There’s no doubt that pushing for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians will be fraught with challenges, and will be met with resistance from some on both sides. However, it’s important to recognize again and again that a two-state solution is in Israel’s existential interest.
It is imperative to securing the future of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state. The demographics make it very clear that in the long term Israel cannot survive under the status quo.
There is a fear that if these tensions continue, Israel will become a partisan issue in America. Do you agree with that prediction?
There is strong support for Israel among Democrats; you can see this in the bipartisan nature of support for Israel in Congress. But there is no doubt that we in America need to make sure – especially during key election years such as this one – that we avoid any attempt to make Israel a wedge issue among voters.
Politicizing Israel for the sake of domestic politics would be a grave mistake, and my Democrat and Republican friends must do all we can to prevent this.