America’s 18th richest person decided this year to oppose the campaign to boycott Israel. And Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate, did it in typical style — with mountains of cash.
Adelson’s anti-BDS initiative, launched in a closed-door meeting at his Venetian hotel, took community activists by surprise. Some felt sidelined and others complained about a perceived right-wing slant, but $50 million later, Adelson’s new initiative is set to become America’s largest pro-Israel campus program.
In recent years, Adelson, 82, has massively expanded his investment in Jewish causes. In addition to Taglit-Birthright Israel and Yad Vashem, which have long benefited from his sponsorship, the business mogul and his wife, Israeli-born Miriam Adelson, have poured millions into the Israeli American Council and have increased their gifts to pro-Israel groups to the right of the Jewish communal mainstream, including the Zionist Organization of America and Christians United for Israel.
Taken together, these donations have made Adelson a major player on the scene, posing a real challenge to the established centrist pro-Israel lobby.
Adelson’s clout in the Jewish community mirrors his influence in Republican political circles, where his kingmaker image has led many GOP presidential hopefuls to make a pilgrimage to Vegas, seeking his support in what are now widely called the “Adelson primaries.”
Adelson, who is facing a court challenge by a former partner in China, has yet to announce his pick for the 2016 race. The chosen candidate can expect a flow of game-changing campaign cash — in return for a promise to support Israel and its policies.