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Forward 50 2015

Sheldon Adelson

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.

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