Sheldon Adelson rode in like an apocalyptic horseman to save the campaign of Newt Gingrich with a $5 million donation to Newt’s super-PAC, Winning Our Future.
Adelson is perhaps the most well-known heavy hitter among contributors largely motivated by their extreme hawkish stances on Israel. He has been honored by the far-right Zionist Organization of America (ZOA, a group so extreme even AIPAC tends to try to keep its distance from them), but he has also been a major funder of AIPAC, making sure he keeps his hand in mainstream US politics on this issue and enabling him to exert a strong push of those politics toward the right.
Adelson’s love of Gingrich is rooted in their mutual passion for crushing unions and privatizing Social Security, but it flowers in their mutual zeal for maintaining Israeli control of the West Bank and support for the farthest right wing of Israeli politics.
It is telling that Adelson is committing such extensive resources in a desperate attempt to hoist Gingrich above Republican front-runner, Mitt Romney, as Romney is very far from being a dove on Middle East matters.
Romney’s foreign policy team draws heavily from former Bush Administration figures, and six of the twenty-two were members of the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a key group in pressing for war with Iraq and advocating granting a much freer hand to Israel in dealing with the Palestinians.
All that, however, is not nearly radical enough for Adelson, who demonstrated his strong preference for Gingrich’s views which are more closely related to the Christian evangelicals (who still largely reject Gingrich for his personal history) than Romney’s anti-Islam but more strategically-oriented ideology.
Adelson underwrote AIPAC’s luxurious new office building in Washington. Having visited both the old and new AIPAC offices, I can testify that Adelson’s money was well-spent. The offices are as comfortable and luxurious as those of major corporations, and the security system there is almost as elaborate as the White House’s.
But Adelson broke with AIPAC over the organization’s tepid support for the Annapolis Conference in 2007, the Bush Administration’s program for maintaining talks toward a two-state solution which were exposed by the Palestine Papers as a sham serving as a cover for ongoing Israeli intransigence.
That remains too liberal a cause for Adelson. But the issue is not Adelson’s political views in and of themselves, but rather his willingness to put his money where his mouth is.
His huge gift to Gingrich might backfire, as it will undermine the attacks Newt has been launching on Romney for all of his “millionaire backing,” that Romney has garnered through his own super-PACs. But with his campaign in decline, Newt had little to lose.
Adelson is not a man to miss an opportunity. After the US Supreme Court opened a golden road to unlimited individual and corporate financing of political campaigns in its famed decision in the case of Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission, the so-called super-PACs came into being. Adelson, one of the wealthiest men in the US, recognizes an opportunity for him to have a powerful influence on US policy.
Adelson knows well how to do this. His efforts to influence young US Jews takes its most prominent form in the massive support Adelson gives to the Birthright program, which brings Jewish high school and college students to Israel for a carefully managed tour and vacation. And Adelson doesn’t stop there.
He founded and continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the Israeli daily, Yisrael Hayom (Israel Today), a right wing publication which strongly supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, thanks to Adelson’s funding, is distributed free not only throughout Israel, but also on flights into and out of the country.
Adelson has sometimes been referred to as the “George Soros of the right.” This might be a fair comparison in terms of each man putting his money into his politics, but Soros does not have any single issue on which he focuses, and on which he is determined to push influence, as Adelson does on Israel.
Adelson has cleverly used his vast resources to help push Israeli public opinion to the right and to influence US politics in the same direction. True, he is focusing strongly on trying to get the White House back for a Republican, and one with extreme views on Israel; but his massive funding is influencing the full political spectrum on this issue.
Adelson is the biggest donor to a wide spectrum of Jewish causes. As a result, he has an enormous influence in this community, as well as in Israel. Despite his favoring of the Likud coalition, that influence explains why he is also honored by Labor and Kadima politicians there.
Adelson was seen attending last year’s AIPAC conference, and whether he has truly abandoned that group is open to question. And it perhaps can be of some consolation that Adelson is pumping so much into Gingrich’s campaign, one which is not very likely to succeed.
But the massive donation does shine an important light on how a very few well-heeled individuals are influencing US policy in the Middle East. The easing of campaign financing regulations may have emboldened Adelson and others like him, but perhaps it will also make more US citizens stand up and notice how these important decisions are really being made.