Sheldon Adelson believes that allowing the Palestinians to have a state is like playing Russian Roulette. He doesn’t know the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims. And he thinks that being one of the richest men in the world is “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”
At a panel at Yeshiva University billed as asking the question, “Will Jews Exist?”, the actual subject appeared to be: “What does Sheldon Adelson think?”
Organized and moderated by Shmuley Boteach, the celebrity rabbi and author, the rambling two-hour October 22 talk hopped from whether Israel should bomb Iran without U.S. consent to whether President Franklin Roosevelt could have stopped the Holocaust. Co-panelists Richard Joel, the president of Y.U., and Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens spoke when spoken to. But they mostly seemed along for the ride.
“With an existential threat against the state of Israel in the form of Iran… and with assimilation being so rampant in the United States, and with that devastating, catastrophic Pew research poll that just came out… we wanted to quickly pull a public forum,” Boteach said while introducing the event.
The panel was the second Boteach-led event to feature Adelson in a month. The panelists at the first event in mid-September were also all male.
Boteach directed the conversation with a heavy hand, but gave Adelson broad leeway in his replies. Adelson, the multi-billionaire casino magnate known for his support of Republican causes, his close relationship with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Jewish philanthropy, spoke broadly on a range of topics. Here are some of his opinions:
• On the Palestinians: “If they truly want peace, it’s very simple to say to all their henchman, lay off the terrorism for five years.”
• Whether Netanyahu will bomb Iran without U.S. permission: “[Former Israeli prime minister Ehud] Olmert is a political person. His wind blows in the direction of the polls. [Netanyahu] is not a political person. [His] wind blows in the direction of his ideology, and his deep and unwavering support and love for the Jewish people and the state of Israel. I am absolutely convinced that Bibi says what he means, means what he says, and if he says that Iran is an existential threat, he would not live…without taking some kind of action.”
• A preemptive U.S. nuclear strike on unpopulated areas of Iran as a negotiating tactic: “Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business.’”
• Household dynamics: “If there’s a second life I’m coming back as Chinese because [the men] are the boss in the household.”
• A new website he’s funding: “We’re going to get to the point where Israel is cool. Not uncool.”
• Muslims: “I don’t know the difference between the Shia and the Sunnis.”
• More on the Palestinians: “There’s no such thing as a Palestinian. Do you know what they are? They call themselves southern Syrians.”
• His opposition to a two-state solution: “To go and allow a Palestinian state is to play Russian roulette.”
Joel’s remarks were limited to assimilation, while Stephens spoke mostly on Iran. There was little disagreement on the panel, though Joel accused Boteach at one point of mischaracterizing something he had said.
“Were you out of the room?” Joel asked.
Though organizers handed out cards on which attendees could write questions, none of the cards were read to the panelists onstage.
Before the talk, invited guests joined Boteach and the panelists in an upstairs library for a sushi and crudités in swan-shaped glass bowls. Zionist Organization of American national director Mort Klein was there, as was newly installed Yeshiva Chovevei Torah president Rabbi Asher Lopatin.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.