Two of the hottest stars in the Republican firmament, Ted Cruz of Texas and Sheldon Adelson of Nevada, tore through the skies this week in what’s traditionally considered America’s most solid Democratic stronghold, the New York Jewish community.
The resulting sound-and-light show probably doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the fates of the two visitors, but it provides a revealing glimpse at the changing landscape of New York Jewish politics.
The biggest headline to emerge from the whirlwind tour was that Adelson doesn’t plan on backing Cruz for president in 2016. After a Monday morning chat, Adelson concluded that Cruz is “too right-wing” and would be a longshot for the GOP nomination, a source close to Adelson told the New York Observer’s Ken Kurson.
Huh? Too right-wing for Sheldon? Well, yes. While he’s best known for his prodigious Republican campaign giving and his fierce opposition to unions and government regulation, he’s also an outspoken backer of abortion rights, gay rights and immigration amnesty. During the 2012 presidential campaign he was asked why he opposed Rick Santorum and replied, “because I’m pro-choice.”
Kurson’s Observer piece offers a fascinating roundup of Cruz’s two-day Big Apple blitz, which included a series of sitdowns with prominent Jewish donors and opinion-makers. Hosts and organizers of the meet-and-greets included real-estate and media mogul (and former Conference of Presidents chairman) Mortimer Zuckerman, “Kosher Sex” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and hedge-fund legend (and former Forward vice-chairman) Michael Steinhardt. Kurson has a pretty stunning rundown of who showed up where to schmooze with Cruz, including Elie Wiesel, Open Orthodoxy champion Rabbi Avi Weiss and former UJA-Federation president Jerry Levin. Sic transit gloria mundi.
The highlight of the visit, though, was the Sunday night Justice Louis D. Brandeis Dinner of the Zionist Organization of America, a high-energy affair that annually fills the coffers — and highlights the growing clout — of the right-wing pro-Israel organization. Both the cash and the clout were well in evidence in the packed ballroom at New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel, where 1,000 guests cheered the Texas Tea Party favorite with repeated standing ovations and chantts of “Run, Ted, Run,” according to accounts by those present.
Among those on hand to present or receive awards, besides Cruz and Adelson, were super-lawyer Alan Dershowitz, arch-conservative Christian Zionist pastor John Hagee, media and real-estate mogul Mortimer Zuckerman and the ZOA president himself, Morton Klein. Others in attendance included Boteach, Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus and Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Dershowitz, a self-identified Democrat and liberal, presented Cruz with the organization’s Dr. Bob Shillman Award for outstanding pro-Israel activity by a legislator. Shillman is a Boston manufacturer who’s a major donor to pro-Israel causes, including the ZOA.
Dershowitz himself was presented with the Mortimer Zuckerman Award for his “consistent and extraordinary record of promoting Israel’s record of a relentless pursuit of peace.” Zuckerman, a Canadian-born real estate developer, is owner and publisher of U.S. News and World Report and the New York Daily News, as well as a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Politically, he’s usually known as a backer of centrist Democrats.
Hagee, founder and leader of Christians United for Israel, received the Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson Award from the Adelsons personally. It honors his “long and distinguished record of defending Israel.” In his acceptance speech he took the opportunity to note that America’s “executive branch is in the hands of one of the most anti-Semitic presidents in the history of America.”
The evening’s highest profile award, the one that bears the dinner’s name, the Louis D. Brandeis Award, went to its lowest-profile honoree, Michael Leven, a prolific philanthropist and chief operating officer of Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp.
Louis Brandeis, born in Kentucky in 1856, was a renowned Boston attorney late-in-life conversion to Zionism helped propel the fledgling movement from the fringes to the center of American Jewish life.
He’s best remembered, though, as a pioneering liberal legal scholar and the first Jewish justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. His defense of unions and workers’ rights, advocacy of strong government regulation of the economy and opposition to big corporations were hallmarks of the Progressive Era. It’s no exaggeration to say that his legal activism helped shape the liberal consensus that dominated much of American political thinking until the 1980s.
Adelson, the Las Vegas-based gambling tycoon, is listed by Forbes as the world’s eighth-wealthiest billionaire. He’s one of the most prolific philanthropists in the Jewish community worldwide and emerged in 2012 as the single biggest donor to Republican presidential candidates battling to dismantle the legacy of the great justice, who spent the evening turning over in his grave.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).