Several years ago, Sheldon Adelson—the gaming megabillionaire who has on occasion introduced himself as “the richest Jew in the world,” and who adores Israel—decided that he wanted to oust the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and install Bibi Netanyahu in his place.
Adelson and Olmert had been friends for many years, but Olmert, a longtime hard-liner on the Palestinian issue, had as prime minister come to embrace the idea of a two-state solution as the only way of preserving Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority. Adelson was apoplectic. His answer to the Jewish-Arab demographic trend-line was simple: “I think Jews should have lots of sex. That is the solution to our demographic problem.” Adelson spent nearly two hundred million dollars to launch a free daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, and set out to use it to help make Netanyahu prime minister; the daily, widely viewed as a Netanyahu mouthpiece, became known as Bibi-ton, and it attacked Olmert fiercely. Adelson could not take credit for the prime minister’s eventual demise—Olmert resigned after being indicted on charges of corruption—but he did play a crucial role in electing Netanyahu.
Now, Adelson is determined to use his money to oust President Barack Obama (“Sheldon hates Obama with a passion,” said someone who knows Adelson well), and make Newt Gingrich President. Adelson has supported Gingrich for many years because of their shared animus for labor unions and rightist views on Israel. But Gingrich may have risen even higher in Adelson’s esteem last month when he referred to the Palestinians as “an invented people”; in remarks to a group of young people visiting Israel, Adelson echoed Gingrich approvingly.
There were rumors in December that Adelson would give many millions to a Gingrich Super PAC, and last Friday he finally did deliver a check for five million dollars. There seemed to be no rational reason for him to have waited so long, watching from the sidelines as Gingrich was being savaged by ads paid for by Romney supporters, only to become involved when Gingrich was virtually on life-support. But an Adelson confidant, Mort Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America, said his understanding is that in December Gingrich told Adelson and other donors that he did not want them to launch attack ads on Romney because he was trying to wage a positive campaign, but he ultimately “went to them and said, OK, I’m ready to do it.” Klein added that Adelson is convinced that Gingrich has a real shot at becoming president.
And perhaps Israel Hayom, which is now the most widely-read daily in Israel, and which has started an English-language online edition, will further fulfill Adelson’s ambitions and be helpful to Gingrich with Jewish voters. In addition, a Jewish wire service, JointMedia News Service—a more politically conservative challenger to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency—was founded several months ago, and its Israel coverage is provided exclusively by Israel Hayom.
Even with Adelson’s money—and if Gingrich does well in South Carolina and, especially, Florida, there will likely be more—Gingrich’s campaign seems almost quixotic. But this, oddly, may be part of the appeal for Adelson. He knows what it is to be counted out and then make a triumphant comeback; after the financial storm of 2008, Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands, nearly went bankrupt—but Adelson put $475 million of his family’s money into it, and has since reaped enormous profits from his casinos in Macao. And Gingrich’s long odds make the upside, for Adelson, even greater. He can surely savor the sweetness of that upside—being the single person to whom both the prime minister of Israel and the President of the United States owe everything.