A day after a investigative report raised questions about payments allegedly approved by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson to a Chinese official, it looks like someone is trying to change the subject.
Both the Jerusalem Post and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency are running prominent stories on their front pages today about the Jewish billionaire. But neither of the articles focused on the still-developing corruption scandal. Instead, they reported a $13 million pledge that Adelson and his wife have made to Birthright Israel, which sends American Jews on free Israel trips.
The intersection between Adelson’s massive philanthropic giving and his business and political ventures are drawing increased attention amidst his financial involvement in the U.S. presidential election. Last week, the National Jewish Democratic Council pulled a campaign that called on Mitt Romney to refuse further political gifts from Adelson.
The NJDC’s retreat came amidst heavy pressure from leading representatives of the Jewish community, including Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League and the leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America.
From the start, the opposition to the NJDC’s attack on Adelson was placed in the context of Adelson’s Birthright philanthropy. In his Huffington Post blog post that began the wave of sentiment against the NJDC, Alan Dershowitz cited Adelson’s role in supporting Birthright. Days later, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a Republican candidate for Congress from New Jersey, directly argued in a column that the NJDC leadership should have been kinder to Adelson because of his Birthright giving.
“Surely [NJDC president and CEO David Harris] has countless friends and acquaintances who have benefited from Birthright,” Boteach wrote. “Could he not show some basic appreciation to the couple who have made so many of those trips possible?“
Monday’s lengthy, hard-hitting report from investigative journalism outfit ProPublica and the PBS program Frontline highlighted a $700,000 legal fee paid by Adelson’s firm to a Chinese government official. The payment, which a leaked email cited in the ProPublica report suggests was explicitly approved by Adelson, is under investigation by federal officials as a possible violation of anti-corruption laws.
The report could cause trouble for Adelson, who has vowed to spend millions more to defeat President Obama, and for Romney, whose super PAC has reportedly received $10 million from Adelson. Some Democrats hope to use the allegations against Adelson to turn voters against the GOP candidate. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s super PAC has also received $5 million from Adelson.
Early news of Adelson’s new gift to Birthright came in a Tweet Monday afternoon by L.A. Jewish Journal columnist Shmuel Rosner. Adelson pledged $13 million to Birthright, according to the JTA report. That’s on top of a $20 million pledge made earlier this year. Together, the gifts make up 54% of the cash raised by Birthright this year, according to the figures in the JTA report.
Also on Monday, Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman released a raunchy video in which she purported to offer sexual favors for Adelson if he would donate his millions to Obama rather than to Romney. The video was produced by a super PAC called the Jewish Council for Education and Research that received a $200,000 gift earlier this year from Alex Soros, the son of Democratic billionaire George Soros.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.