Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire Las Vegas businessman and philanthropist, called me last Friday afternoon to complain about our story, “Will Gingrich Bomb With Jewish Republicans?” (May 13), saying it was “biased and prejudiced” and unfairly negative, “starting with the headline.”
He said he has known the former house speaker, who last week announced his candidacy for the Republican Presidential nomination, for close to two decades, and asserted that “no candidate is stronger” than Gingrich or more supportive of Israel.
“There is not a better advocate for Israel,” said Adelson, a member of the board of the Republican Jewish Committee (RJC). He added that many other board members think “very highly” of Gingrich, and that he is certainly electable.
The article Adelson objected to, by our Washington Correspondent James Besser, was based on discussions, on and off the record, with key Jewish Republicans, including members of the RJC, and political analysts. Some said Gingrich “will appeal to Jewish swing voters because of his experience — and because he seems something of an intellectual heavyweight,” Besser reported, adding that many felt the Georgian would not fare well with most Jewish voters, who tend to put domestic issues over Israel.
The article quoted Fred Zeidman, a Texas businessman and longtime Republican leader, as saying that “Newt really is good. But the fact of the matter is, he is totally unelectable because of his baggage, because he was a firebrand…. I don’t think there will be much support for him at all.”
Adelson said that Zeidman later told him his comments were made off the record and taken out of context; Besser maintains they were accurate and on the record. (Zeidman did not make those complaints in a Jewish Week letter to the editor.)
In a freewheeling 30-minute conversation ranging from the 2012 race to examples of hypocrisy among politicians to the Mideast situation, Adelson was aggressive in repeatedly defending Gingrich, criticizing The Jewish Week article and insisting that the Palestinian leadership is intent on destroying Israel.
He said the Jewish state should not be coerced into a meaningless and dangerous peace agreement.
“Can you make peace with people whose sole mission is to destroy you?” he asked. “You don’t have someone who wants to make peace with you.”
He said that to the Palestinian leadership, “the two-state solution is a stepping stone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people,” and he sees no distinction between Hamas, the terror group that controls Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
“They sat with [PLO leader Yasir] Arafat for 40 years,” Adelson said of Abbas and Fayyad. “When he was planning terror, did they recuse themselves and leave the room?”
He said he saw no chance for peace as long as Palestinian children from the age of 3 are taught that “a Jew is a swine and ape” and should be killed.
“I favor peace,” he said, “but to be pro-Israel you also need to have a position vis a vis Israel’s enemies. And no reasonable person would make Israel sign with people pledged to destroy them.”
Adelson recalled visiting the office of longtime Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Jericho with a U.S. congressional delegation and noticing that the large map of the region proclaimed `Palestine’ in large black letters, with no reference to Israel.
When asked about whether the map implied that the Palestinians don’t recognize Israel, Adelson said that Erekat replied, “we can dream, can’t we?”
The Las Vegas-based businessman said Gingrich is a “first-tier” Republican candidate, along with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. (Huckabee announced the following day that he will not run.)
Adelson, a major Gingrich supporter, added that former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is “making progress” but is “not in the first tier yet.”
Gingrich is “realistic” about the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, according to Adelson, who said he was not familiar with the other candidates’ positions on the issue.
Any of the Republican hopefuls “are going to be 180 degrees” different from President Obama in terms of “what’s good for this country and for Israel,” Adelson said, adding that Obama is “the worst president” for Israel.
“All the steps he’s taken against the state of Israel are liable to bring about the destruction of the state,” he asserted.
Adelson said Gingrich has pledged to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and would make it a priority on his first day in the Oval Office.
Other candidates, Republican and Democrat, have made such a promise but did not following through once in office.
Adelson said that contrary to some claims, Gingrich was not a hypocrite for leading the effort to impeach President Clinton at a time when, it was later learned, the congressman was having an affair with a House of Representatives staffer 23 years his junior – she is now his third wife.
“He wasn’t going after Clinton for having an affair but because he lied,” Adelson said, adding that Gingrich wasn’t president at the time.
Considered a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Adelson has supported a number of philanthropic projects in Israel and is a major funder of Birthright Israel, which provides free ten-day visits for diaspora Jews between the ages of 18 and 26. He has donated more than $100 million to the program and single-handedly helped lower the number of would-be participants on waiting lists.
In 2007, Adelson launched a free Israeli newspaper, Yisrael Hayom (Israel Today), which is considered a high quality, right of center daily, and now enjoys the highest readership in the country.
He has denied claims that he started the newspaper to support Netanyahu, saying his goal is to provide Israelis access to a full range of ideas and points of view.