CHICAGO: Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who died on Monday aged 87, was unapologetic in denouncing the Palestinians as “a made-up nation,” and used his fortune to augment that message via his media empire and campaign donations to influence US elections.
The publisher of Israel’s largest newspaper Israel Hayom, he was the biggest financial contributor to US President Donald Trump’s campaign, and donated millions more to Congressional and Senate candidates.
“Sheldon Adelson was an American patriot, and a staunch defender of Israel and the Jewish people. His loss is a tremendous one for America, for Israel and for the Jewish people,” Jason Greenblatt, one of Trump’s initial key advisers on the Middle East, told Arab News.
“His deep knowledge of Israel and its many challenges were valuable to the Trump administration over the past four years. Sheldon, together with his wife Miriam, were among those who offered serious advice, strong encouragement and critical insight on many of President Trump’s policies relating to Israel. I consider them deeply important figures whose input was extremely valuable.”
But Greenblatt’s admiration for Adelson is not shared by most Arab-American activists and leaders, several of whom told Arab News that their views might be too harsh to publish in a newspaper.
Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, told Arab News that Adelson used his money and influence to impact US public and political opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, getting “Trump to do his bidding.”
Zogby cited the moving of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as an example.
Adelson understood the power of communications and the media, using his wealth and newspaper empire to influence US public opinion.
In August 2014, he and Israel brought together hundreds of Israeli university students to help develop an app to counter negative world reaction to the country’s 2014 bombing of the Gaza Strip, which killed more than 2,251 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians.
The app, called ACT.IL — IL represents Israel’s internet designation — pushed its more than 3,000 users at the time to post comments supportive of the country on dozens of news and social media sites.
In 2015, Adelson hosted at his Las Vegas casino a conference of activists to counter the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
As a consequence, more than 28 US states adopted legislation that punishes any contractor or employee, in various ways depending on the state, if they fail to denounce the boycott of Israel.
The first anti-BDS law was passed in Tennessee in April 2015 followed by South Carolina and Illinois, with 13 more states in 2016, nine in 2017 and three more since, including South Dakota in January 2020.
The anti-BDS campaign, called the Campus Maccabees, was funded by a $50 million donation from Adelson.
He used his money to directly influence members of Congress during their election campaigns.
He donated more than $120 million, according to Federal Election Commission records, to 180 Republican Congressional and Senate candidates, and to several conservative Super Political Action Committees, including Preserve America and the RJC Victory Fund.
Author and producer Reza Aslan tweeted: “Hard to think of a single more destructive force in American politics than Sheldon Adelson, who spent billions making the world a worst place before leaving it in ruins.”
Trump issued a statement lamenting Adelson’s passing, but there was no immediate comment from President-elect Joe Biden.