Sheldon Adelson, Who Loved Israel, Bankrolled a President Loved by Anti-Semites
The proud Zionist created and then enabled President Trump, whose people stormed the Capitol to put up a noose, wave Confederate flags, and wear “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirts.
From Boston newsboy to mega-billionaire casino mogul, Sheldon Adelson’s life was a remarkable American success story.
Adelson, who died Tuesday at age 87 after a long fight with the blood cancer non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was the pugnacious son of a Dorchester, Mass., cab driver who rose to become one of the world’s wealthiest men. His shimmering Las Vegas Sands Corp. casino megaresorts in Las Vegas, Macau, and Singapore set a standard for style and the integration of a tourism and convention business model that changed the gaming industry. The company’s market cap: $45 billion. Adelson ranked 19th on the Forbes 400 list with a net worth of $35.9 billion.
Adelson used millions of that wealth to become a major political influencer in the U.S. and Israel. At home, he donated hundreds of millions to the Republican Party and bankrolled the presidential fortunes of Donald Trump, whose reckless administration has imperiled the Republic. Abroad, Adelson’s embrace of Bibi Netanyahu and the right-wing Likud Party transcended obsession and was trumpeted by his newspaper Israel Hayom.
Years before his efforts to create a Trump presidency, Adelson was happy to wade into foreign policy discussions, telling an audience in 2013 at Yeshiva University that the U.S. should drop a nuclear weapon in the Iranian desert to send them a message. He later said he was joking. Someone took him seriously: Months later, his company was hit with a costly cyberattack authorities blamed on Iran.
Maybe he was also joking in November 2014 during a meeting of the Israel-American Council Conference when he offered, “I don’t think the Bible says anything about democracy… God talked about all sorts of good things in life. He didn’t talk about Israel remaining a democratic state, and if Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state–so what?” Did he feel the same about Trump’s America?
Adelson’s millions in the 2016 election gave him a Geppetto-like influence over Trump and resulted in the transfer of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and a historic shift in U.S. Mideast foreign policy. Trump would award Adelson’s wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, the Medal of Freedom. She would enthuse aloud that perhaps one day a “Book of Trump” would be added to the Bible.
In interviews, Adelson would often recall his early days selling newspapers on the street corner and scuffling with anti-Semitic bullies on the way home. In time, that boy who was bullied would become a bully himself, filing hundreds of lawsuits in a litigation strategy that was noted during his casino licensing hearing before Nevada’s Gaming Control Board. It would be chronicled in court documents and news headlines for the next quarter-century.
Adelson also sued journalists. He sued me into bankruptcy over a passage I’d written in a book about the Las Vegas casino kings. Although the lawsuit was eventually dismissed with prejudice, with my side awarded court costs, he succeeded in sending a message to other journalists who sought to look into his business and back story. In December 2015, Adelson secretly bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the newspaper where I’d worked as a columnist for three decades, and by the following April, I was out the door. Far from bitter, I am left to wonder whether Adelson ever paused to consider the untold hours of his life he spent in courtrooms and depositions pursuing perceived grievances and defending himself over issues that in the end only hurt his business, reputation, and legacy.
But how could he have done otherwise? He was Citizen Sheldon, as rich as any king, but still that Dorchester newsie fighting to keep his street corner.
It was also Adelson, ever the proud Zionist, whose millions created and then enabled a president who giddily accepted support from white supremacists and anti-Semites. They were the sort of people who stormed the Capitol to put up a noose and wave Confederate flags while wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “Camp Auschwitz” and “6MWNE”— “six million were not enough.” For whatever Adelson’s high-minded motives, he put his bankroll behind a would-be fascist strongman wrapped in an American flag.
As the pepper spray clears from last week’s failed insurrection, reliable intelligence sources are predicting a high potential for violence leading up to former Vice President Joe Biden’s inauguration. With an army of true believers still buying his voter fraud conspiracy, Trump’s influence remains toxic.
Adelson, king and kingmaker, has gone to his reward.
For all Citizen Sheldon’s many successes, and they are undeniable, his life’s legacy is tarred by his role in creating the most dangerous and destructive president in American history.