Sheldon Adelson's Billions And Newt Gingrich: A Match Made In Israel
JERUSALEM -- When Newt Gingrich told an interviewer last month that the Palestinians were an "invented people," his remark drew almost universal rebuke.
Even those who did not find it deeply offensive -- or counterproductive -- assumed that its extreme nature would further harm his chances at the presidency.
Except, that is, for Sheldon Adelson.
A few weeks later, at a Hanukkah event welcoming American students visiting Israel as part of the Birthright program, which he helps fund, Adelson, the multibillionaire casino magnate, declared that Gingrich had it right.
"Read the history of those who call themselves Palestinians, and you will hear why Gingrich said recently that the Palestinians are an invented people," Adelson said. "There are a number of Palestinians who will recognize the truth of this statement."
Last weekend, Adelson made good on a commitment to begin pumping massive sums of cash into Gingrich's campaign -- or at least into a super PAC backing him.
The $5 million check that made its way to the super PAC, Winning Our Future, immediately helped make possible a dire and highly produced TV spot assailing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for his work in private equity.
The ad, with its ferociously anti-big business message, has stunned many GOP primary watchers, even more so since it was financed by one of the richest men in America.
But over the years, the relationship between Gingrich and Adelson -- which began, as The New York Times recently reported, over business-friendly legislation in the 1990s -- has come to revolve around a single issue: Israel, and specifically Adelson's unique, hardline and hawkish take on the country.
"Sheldon has always loved Newt," The Daily Beast quoted a friend of Adelman's saying late last year. "He stuck with him when he stumbled. Newt, I think, is very reflective of Sheldon's mindset. Particularly with Israel."
As Nathan Guttman and Josh Nathan-Kazis documented in a recent report in the Jewish Daily Forward, Adelson identified Gingrich as someone who shared his vision for Israel policy years ago.
And it shows on the campaign trail. While Gingrich joins the chorus of Republican primary contenders racing to demonstrate their pro-Israel credentials, his suggestions have tended to be more hardline, and specific.
Romney may have boasted that he would make his first trip as president to Israel, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum that he would support a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran. But Gingrich says all that, plus adds that he would begin by considering the release of Jonathan Pollard, the convicted Israeli who spied on America, and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem on his first day in office.
Both Adelson and Gingrich have been openly disdainful of the Palestinians, whom they both describe as bent on destroying Israel and offering nothing toward a peace process. Both agree that the two-state solution, since it means Israel must give up parts of the West Bank, is dead.
"There is not a better advocate for Israel," Adelson told the editor of the Jewish Week last year, when he called the editor to berate him over an article that criticized Gingrich's Israel bona fides.
Lately, Adelson has also expanded his Gingrich boosting effort to another arena: the Israeli media.
Since 2007, Adelson has owned a daily newspaper called Israel Hayom, which is distributed free of charge -- chiefly on Adelson's dime -- to the largest audience of any paper in the country.
The paper was so positive toward Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of Adelson's, both personally and ideologically, that many people believed it had been founded simply to help him return to the premiership.
"If you are a person like me who reads the paper every day, you can trace how Israel Hayom is supporting Netanyahu on every page of the paper," said Uzi Benziman, the editor of an Israeli media watchdog blog called the 7th Eye. "Not just in the opinion pages, but even in the news pages: they hide reports on news that is negative to Netanyahu and they emphasize stories that are very good. It reminds me very much of how when Israel was just beginning, each political party had own paper. That's what Hayom is: Bibi's political paper."
Adelson has consistently denied that he built the paper for Netanyahu, saying instead that his intent was for Israel to finally have "a fair and balanced paper."
Lately, Israel Hayom seems to be Gingrich's personal paper.
As Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist and editor of the web magazine +972 has pointed out, the paper was granted an exclusive interview with Gingrich last year, and has lately published several positive op-eds with titles like "Three Cheers for Newt Gingrich" and "Gingrich Sets Himself Apart."
It's hard to know exactly why Adelson has decided to invest so many resources into advancing Gingrich's image in Israel, but Sheizaf suspects it has to do with the hope that pro-Israel primary voters will look to Israelis for clues about whom to support.
"Israelis don't really know all these people in the Republican primary," Sheizaf said. "So picking someone off the pile and saying, 'This is the guy, the guy who is sensitive to your needs, who will back you on Iran, who really understands Israel,' it can go a long way in Israel, and as a consequence it sure won't hurt your candidate back home."
A spokesman for Adelson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It may also be part of a more domestic effort to shore up Adelson's relationship with Netanyahu, who is known to have no deep admiration for Barack Obama, but who also has a long personal history with Gingrich. When Gingrich, as House speaker, was steeped in Contract with America deliberations in the mid-1990s, the only foreign leader he would meet with was Netanyahu.
"[Adelson] looks to Netanyahu as a friend, and also a protégé -- that with his money can somehow take care of this 'young guy,'" said Nahum Barnea, the dean of the Israeli press corps and a leading columnist with the competing daily Yedioth Ahronoth, where he regularly assails Adelson's impact on Israeli politics. "As a result, Netanyahu really is bound to regard what Adelson says very seriously."
He went on, "The relations between Gingrich and Sheldon are similar. Sheldon makes a kind of commitment toward you, to sponsor your political career, and in turn you are responsible to him, to acknowledge his political will or at least his basic opinions when it comes to your agenda. This is what politicians call friendship."
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