The linkage between campaign contributions and compromised candidates has grown so familiar that it no longer shocks, and indeed rarely even interests, most of us. But in the super-PAC era, when a single, $5 million, donation can resuscitate a broken Newt Gingrich, the search for a quid pro quo explanation expands with the enlarged dimensions of the donation. In the case of Las Vegas casino king Sheldon Adelson, Gingrich’s Daddy Warbucks, the size of the subsidy can literally shape a candidate’s views on matters of war and peace, and I’m not talking about a battle for gaming rights.
Adelson uses his money to abuse or anoint Israeli prime ministers (ask Ehud Olmert, on the abuse side, and the still-anointed Bibi Netanyahu) and American presidents (Gingrich versus Obama). He even pulled his money out of AIPAC, the top-pro Israel lobbying group, when it appeared to support a 2007 peace initiative championed by Olmert, President Bush, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an effort denounced by Gingrich at the time. “I don’t continue to support organizations that help friends committing suicide just because they say they want to jump,” explained Adelson, who was already spearheading a coup designed to replace Olmert with Netanyahu.
As significant as his 2012 check was to Gingrich’s Winning Our Future PAC, paying for the negative ads now swamping South Carolina, Adelson actually became Newt Gingrich’s biggest donor in 2006, pumping a million startup dollars into an otherwise empty and similarly named Gingrich PAC, American Solutions for Winning Our Future. He gave $7.7 million over four years to this group, widely seen as “the springboard” for Gingrich’s presidential campaign, making him the largest donor over those years to any 527 independent committees, the supposedly issue-oriented precursors to the super PACs that now dominate presidential campaign finance. The PAC spent $8 million flying Gingrich in private jets around the country in anticipation of a 2008 candidacy that he flirted with before abandoning, and in the lead-up to this race. It was during these years, and in recent jolting comments, that Gingrich appeared to begin talking to an audience of one, at least when it came to his Middle East views.
One way to test how this generosity might have influenced the always hardline Gingrich is how these views hardened even more after he climbed aboard the Adelson gravy train, who has so far donated nearly $13 million to Gingrich’s two White House-tied PACS, a record in American politics. In the summer of 2005, a year before Gingrich founded American Solutions with Adelson as the initial donor, the ex-speaker candidate penned a treatise for a right-wing U.S. publication called the Middle East Quarterly. Compared to the views he expresses now, which are a full-blown echo of Adelson’s, the Gingrich of six years ago was a moderate, endorsing Obama-like policies he now condemns.
Contrary to Gingrich’s recent claim that the Palestinians are an “invented people” that “had a chance to go many places,” his 2005 article urged the “Palestinian diaspora” to invest in “their ancestral lands,” and even urged Congress to “establish a program of economic aid for the Palestinians to match the aid the U.S. government provides Israel.” The Palestinians were “among the most international and most advanced people in the Arab world,” Gingrich wrote while still a fellow at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute.
“The U.S. government should become the protector of the Palestinian people’s right to have a decent amount of land,” the Gingrich article continued. “The desire of some Israelis to use security as an excuse to grab more Palestinian land should be blocked by Washington even if that requires employing financial or other leverage to compel the Israeli government to behave reasonably on the issue of settlements. It is vital to our credibility in the entire Middle East that we insist on an end to Israeli expansionism. It is vital to our humanitarian duty to the Palestinian people that we protect the weaker party from the stronger power. It is vital that the world sees that our total support for Israeli security is not matched by a one-sided support for more extreme Israeli territorial demands.”
Gingrich wrote that the U.S. “should actively support a democratic Palestinian state,” and even condemned “Israeli politicians” who think there’s “no reason to have a Palestinian state.” He said those politicians “are in their own way the equivalent of those Palestinians who believe that Israel can be coerced into a right of return for Palestinians even if it would mean the end of Israel.”
In the controversy that followed his 2011 “invented people” comments, the Gingrich campaign indicated that he favored a “negotiated peace settlement” that set “the borders of a Palestinian state,” suggesting that he could live with a two-state solution. But the Gingrich spokesman also indicated that these negotiations would have to take into account “decades of complex history,” which was widely seen as an affirmation of Gingrich’s effort to delegitimize the Palestinians’ “invented” land claim. In any event, Gingrich opposes peace negotiations, and did so in the 2005 article as well, unless the Palestinians agree to a series of highly unlikely pre-bargaining conditions. So, in practical terms, his position doesn’t put him far from Adelson, who flatly says “the two-state solution is a stepping stone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people.” Both the Bush and Obama administrations have made it a foundation of bipartisan American policy.
Gingrich’s repudiation of his 2005 op-ed on American settlement policy, however, was even more striking. Asked in a December radio interview about his position about the right of Jewish settlers to live “in Judea and Samaria” (the term favored on the Israeli right for the West Bank), Gingrich now says: “I do not oppose any development in the Israeli-occupied areas, because I think that’s part of the negotiating process. As long as the Palestinians are waging war on Israel, they are in no position to complain about developments.” Why would the Israelis, Gingrich asked, “slow down in maximizing their net bargaining advantage?” The questioner was Morton Klein, the head of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), a pro-settlement group bankrolled in part by Adelson, who refers to Klein as his “Zionist mentor, the greatest and most passionate Zionist in the world.” Klein is a rare neocon who openly admits his minimal expectation that a peace agreement can be reached, declaring, “As much as we all want Israel to have peace with the Arabs, Israel can and will survive and thrive without it—as they have since 1948.”
The new Gingrich view was another mirror image of Adelson’s, who has branded the settlement issue “a red herring.” When Klein presented Adelson with the ZOA’s Theodor Herzl Gold Medallion at the group’s annual dinner in December 2009, Klein even assailed Netanyahu’s partial moratorium on West Bank settlements, calling it “racist.” In Adelson’s acceptance speech, the then-76-year-old billionaire said that “each time” Klein opened his mouth, “I thought it was me talking,” a ventriloquist performance he’s repeating with Newt now on the national stage. Adelson said he was going to Israel to lobby Netanyahu about the 10-month moratorium the prime minister started that November, and when it expired, Netanyahu resisted intense Obama administration and Palestinian Authority pressures to renew it. News reports now indicate that 2011 was a peak year in new settlement development, and Gingrich has been highly critical of Obama administration efforts to curb it, charging recently that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “unacceptably interfered in internal Israeli politics” and “challenged Israeli sovereignty” when he urged restraint on settlement activities. That statement directly contradicts his 2005 essay, which portrayed resistance to settlements as an American “duty.”
Klein also endorsed Gingrich’s “invented people” charge against the Palestinians, saying, “Not many others are willing to say that, but it’s a tragic truth.” At a Chanukah event, Adelson himself ¨told American students visiting Israel, “Read the history of those who call themselves Palestinians, and you will hear why Gingrich said recently that the Palestinians are an invented people. There are a number of Palestinians who will recognize the truth of this statement.” Just a few days before Adelson gave Gingrich the $5 million donation, he told the Jewish Press that the Palestinians “don’t want the Jews or any other religion to be alive, so how are they going to get to the point of peace?”
While an Adelson spokesman did not return Daily Beast calls, Klein, who says he’s known Gingrich since their discussions in the '90s about linking congressional aid to the Palestinians to compliance with peace accords, says he “agrees in general” with Gingrich positions. “The fact that he makes it clear, unlike others,” says Klein, “that the Palestinian Authority’s goal is not a state but Israel’s destruction. I strongly agree with that.” Asked if he thought Adelson was trying to influence politicians with these large donations, Klein said, “Anyone who gives money to Obama is hoping to influence him. That’s part of the deal when anyone gives money to a politician, they hope to influence them. One of the factors is maybe they’ll listen to them.” Klein said, “I honestly don’t know” if Adelson had shaped Gingrich views on these issues, adding that he thought Gingrich “holds the views he holds very strongly” and that Adelson gave to him because he knows that Gingrich’s positions “align themselves well with his own.”
Gingrich also referred in the 2005 article to the threat of a nuclear Iran, but without urging any immediate American or Israeli action. While there’s no doubt this is a graver concern than it was six years ago, Gingrich said then that Iran was “believed by many countries to be secretly developing nuclear weapons.” He put this in the broader context of North Korea and Pakistan already having nukes, and Gingrich calling them and a chemical-weapon-armed Syria “hostile to Israel’s existence.” But he clearly saw it as a future threat, concluding that “another generation of continuing hatred and violence could culminate in a devastating attack” on Israel. No presidential candidate now, however, has done more saber rattling against Iran, another Adelson echo.
In Connie Bruck’s extraordinary New Yorker profile of Adelson, she reported that as early as June 2007, Adelson was so ready for war with Iran that he separated the men from the boys on the basis of their willingness to strike Iran. At a conference in Prague sponsored by his own Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, he dismissed the son of the former shah because, he told one participant, “he doesn’t want to attack Iran.” He said he liked another Iranian dissident at the conference “because he says that if we attack, the Iranian people will be ecstatic.” He attributed his own lust for an attack to his love of Israel, adding that he didn’t care what happened in Iran.
Another U.S. group Adelson bankrolled, the now defunct Freedom’s Watch, listed Iran as one of its two top concerns on its website, and enlisted Gingrich as one of its prime defenders in 2008 when NBC refused to air its ads the network branded “too political.” Gingrich went on Fox calling for an NBC boycott. In addition, Israel Hayom, the Adelson-owned newspaper in Israel that’s become its largest daily, is simultaneously beating the drums for an Iranian attack and a Gingrich nomination. In an interview with its editor, Gingrich called a possible Israeli attack on Iran “an act of self defense.”
Gingrich has become a fount of anti-Iranian ideas—sabotaging their oil supply, funding every dissident group, and even assassinating their nuclear scientists, which he proposed way back in November, long before the recent murder in the streets of Tehran. Morton Klein, Adelson’s self-described mouthpiece and mentor, is now berating Obama for ostensibly questioning the Netanyahu administration about the killing. “Surely then, if Israel did eliminate the Iranian nuclear scientist,” a Klein press release argued, “President Obama should be privately congratulating Israel, not demanding explanations.” It would seem, said Klein, “Obama thinks preparing for a crisis of Iran’s making renders the West guilty of raising tensions.” Gingrich has oscillated on the question of a direct strike on the nuclear facilities, saying at one point that it’s impossible to take out Iranian’s “huge underground” plant, but at other times saying that if Israel notified him as president that they were about to attack, he’d just offer to help.
Describing the Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons as “a second holocaust,” Gingrich has seemed at times to be suggesting all-out military efforts to overthrow the Iranian regime. As Klein put it in a Daily Beast interview, Gingrich “makes it clear that Iran must know if sanctions fail the military option is there and will be used [italics added]. I agree with that absolutely.”
This overlay of Gingrich and Adelson policy preceded, in some respects, the explosion of Adelson contributions that began in 2006, with the two developing a relationship in the late '90s when Gingrich was still speaker. But the shift from Gingrich’s relatively tempered views of the 2005 piece to now is an alarming new form of donor-driven policy that has even helped push other candidates, including Mitt Romney, into similar extreme neocon positions. It fueled Gingrich attacks, equating Bush peace efforts at Annapolis in 2007 with “surrender,” just as it is now yanking the entire debate about American-Israeli relations to the right, with seemingly everyone scampering to keep up with Newt, afraid to appear weak by comparison. The bang that comes with this buck, however, may be quite a real one, sparking the “confrontation with evil” Adelson appears to crave.
Research assistance was provided by Jillian Anthony, Irina Ivanova, Clarissa León, Nicole Marsh, and Kyle Roerink.