Is Sheldon Adelson’s reputation ruined?

America’s third-richest man is savaged by the New Yorker

One of the most extraordinary American lobbyists for Israel is the multi-billionaire American gaming magnate Sheldon Adelson. The son of a Boston taxi driver, he is among the most powerful figures in Las Vegas gambling and made a second fortune by taking US-style gaming to the former Portuguese colony of Macao — now back under Chinese control.

A savage 12,000 investigative article in last week’s New Yorker (it doesn’t do short), by business writer Connie Bruck, chronicles Adelson’s business, political and media life in meticulous detail. It purports to show how Adelson ruthlessly uses his financial firepower to pursue his political agenda, relentlessly and persistently attacking his critics, including those in the media, along the way.

The writer skilfully uses anecdote and hard reporting in a demolition of Adelson’s public standing.

The New Yorker records how Adelson, America’s third-richest person, personally lobbied against a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine question. As a “Bush Pioneer” — a heavy giver to the president’s re-election campaign — he reportedly told George Bush last year that he was opposed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s effort to restart the peace process at Annapolis because she was on a disastrous course.

Bush is reported to have replied: “You can tell your Prime Minister I need to know what’s right for your people... it’s going to be my policy.”

Just in case anyone was in doubt about Adelson’s view, an organisation to which he is a major contributor took a full-page ad in the New York Times headlined: “Secretary Rice: Don’t promote a state for the Palestinians. Their 10 commandments promote terrorism and Israel’s destruction.”

Adelson’s devotion to his cause is single-minded. When he learnt that fellow billionaire Haim Saban, the media tycoon, was organising an event in Jerusalem under the auspices of Brookings Institution’s Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, Adelson phoned him and asked that he contribute to a campaign against Ehud Olmert. Saban reportedly refused, at which point Adelson allegedly suggested that Saban was funding an anti-Israel think-tank. For a long time Adelson preferred a low profile, showing his support for Israel through Aipac, even paying for a new HQ in Washington. But relations fractured when he learned that Aipac had endorsed a letter from 130 members of Congress proposing economic aid to the Palestinians.

Like other rich men, Adelson believes a direct way of influencing political opinion is by having control over media outlets. To this end in March 2007 he opened talks to buy Ma’ariv, which broke down. Instead, last August he launched his own freesheet newspaper, Israel Hayom (Israel Today).

Within Israel, the paper has become known as Bibi-ton because it is seen as echoing the views of Netanyahu.

Well before Olmert became the subject of corruption investigations, he faced vitriol in Adelson’s paper. Yet the paper is thriving and seeking to challenge Yedioth Ahronoth, the country’s biggest-selling paper. Inside Israel, Adelson also funds a right-wing think tank. He and his Israeli wife Miriam are the biggest donors to Yad Yashem.

The richer he has become, the more able he has been to fund and drum up support for Israel’s right in America and in Israel itself. But the nastiness of the headlines in his freesheet newspaper and his attacks on critics have put him outside the mainstream.

The New Yorker’s critique of his business and political methods (and family fallings-out) will have done nothing to enhance his reputation in the US or Israel. In US politics, money is normally everything. But even billionaires can overreach themselves.

    Last updated: 11:19am, July 7 2008