Adelson: Paid to play, and played in a huge way - analysis

Adelson was a lightning rod. Those who liked the candidates and the causes he supported thought him an angel, those who liked neither saw him as a malevolent wizard.

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson at the inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018 (photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
Sheldon and Miriam Adelson at the inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018
(photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
Sheldon Adelson, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 87, was a proud Jew, Zionist and American conservative who backed up his convictions with his hefty wallet.
Adelson was not the world’s first or only Jewish billionaire. But no other one over the last three decades – his first visit to Israel did not come until 1988 – has had the impact he has had on Jewish identity and the face of Israel. And the reason was simple: Adelson was willing to spend billions of dollars on causes that he believed in, and the causes he was most passionate about were Jewish identity and Israel.
Some American Jewish billionaires donate generously to their local art museums, hospitals and universities, Adelson – who also did some of that as well, especially to healthcare – donated enormously to Jewish causes, both in Israel and in America.
He gave hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to organizations devoted to strengthening Jewish identity, including a staggering $400 million to Birthright, and $25m. to build a Jewish high school in Las Vegas. He gave enormous amounts to Yad Vashem, to Ariel University, IDC Herzliya, drug rehabilitation centers and numerous other causes in Israel. In 2007, he set up a foundation that pledged to give $200m. annually to Jewish causes.
Like other Jewish billionaires, he also donated to American political candidates and parties. Unlike many, however, his main criterion – at least for candidates running for president – was not the candidates’ positions on climate change or gun control, but rather their positions on Israel.
That is the prime reason he donated handsomely to George W. Bush in 2004, to Mitt Romney in 2012 and to Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. He backed the candidate he thought would be best for the Jewish state.
Adelson was a lightning rod. Those who liked the candidates and the causes he supported thought him an angel; those who liked neither, saw him as a malevolent wizard behind the curtain, all powerful and manipulative.
One’s opinion about Adelson depended on whether one agreed with the policies he promoted. Those who slammed him for so heavily supporting Romney and Trump, obviously would have had less problem with his donations if they were directed toward Barack Obama in 2012 or Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The same is true in Israel.
For the Right, Adelson was a darling because of the causes he supported – the settlements, Benjamin Netanyahu – and because of the paper he set up in 2007, Israel Hayom, which was unabashedly supportive of Netanyahu and which has had a huge impact on the country by putting an end to Yediot Aharonot’s domination of this country’s newspaper landscape.
For the Left, he was a demon because of that same support for Netanyahu and his willingness to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into a newspaper, distributed for free, which has an editorial policy that sings Netanyahu’s praises and which many maintain was instrumental in bringing the prime minister to power.
It is doubtful, however, that the Left’s criticism of Adelson for “enfeebling” the Israeli press and thereby Israeli democracy by funding a giveaway paper would have been as loud had he spent his millions propping up Haaretz rather than Israel Hayom.
The Left, both in the US and Israel, abhorred him because of his political stands. He supported the settlements, was opposed to a Palestinian state and was a strong backer, at least for much of the time, of Netanyahu. But he was doing nothing more than playing by the accepted rules to support his convictions.
Adelson had a clear image in his mind of what Israel should look like, and set about – through his enormous philanthropic largesse – to mold the country to his image.