Romney Pleases Political Donor on Israel

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is stopping in Israel to highlight his close ties to Prime Minister Netanyahu. But the visit also will showcase super Super-PAC donor Sheldon Adelson, whose money is aimed at defeating President Obama, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

In this first presidential election since the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court took away Congress’s legislative ability to reduce the corrupting influence of big money on the U.S. electoral process, there are worrisome manifestations of that influence every week.

For example, Mitt Romney right now is doing some fund-raising in Britainamong banking nabobs on the heels of the Libor-fixing scandal. A co-chair of an event that is charging $25,000 to $75,000 a head to schmooze with the presumptive GOP nominee is the chief lobbyist of Barclays. He replaced in that role former Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond, who resigned (from his bank job and from his role in the Romney fund-raiser) because of his bank’s central role in the scandal.

Casino mogul and Super-PAC donor Sheldon Adelson. (Photo credit: Bectrigger)

But if I had to identify one source of big money whose influence is most worrisome on issues I happen to think about a lot, it would be someone who will meet Romney at a later stop on his current overseas trip, in Israel. That source is casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Two things about Adelson’s role in this post-Citizens United world stand out. One is the sheer magnitude of the money involved. Adelson appears to be on track to be the single biggest individual donor in this U.S. election year, although we may never know that for sure, given the way the bundling of political money works and the refusal of the Romney campaign to identify the sources of its bundled money.

Adelson’s fortune is currently estimated at about $24 billion. He has taken in stride the fluctuation of his wealth by many billions as shares of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation tanked during the recession before recovering, and he has repeatedly commented about how wide he intends to open his wallet to the candidate of his choice. During the primary season, that candidate was Newt Gingrich. Adelson said he would have been willing to give as much as $100 million to Gingrich’s campaign, before that campaign ended and Adelson turned his support to Romney.

The other distinguishing characteristic of Adelson is the strength of his affinity to a foreign government, not just to a foreign country but to the policies of the current government of that country. It is appropriate that Adelson will be one of the greeters when Romney arrives in Israel because, although Adelson is a U.S. citizen, his declared primary allegiance is to Israel.

Adelson once commented that when he did military service as a young man it “unfortunately” was in a U.S. uniform rather than an Israeli one and that all he and his Israeli wife “care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel, because even though I am not Israeli born, Israel is in my heart.”

Adelson is using his fortune to push a political agenda in Israel as well as in the United States. One way he has done that is by establishing five years ago a free-distribution newspaper, Israel Hayom, which has become the highest-circulation daily in Israel. The paper follows a firmly rightist, pro-Netanyahu line. As a business the newspaper is a money loser, but Adelson cheerfully has indicated his willingness to continue losing money on the paper (not a significant loss, in comparison with his fortune) to get its message across.

Israel already has a government to Adelson’s liking, and he is using his money to sustain public support for it. In the United States, it is a matter of still trying to buy a government to his liking. His current hoped-for vehicle for doing that, Mitt Romney, has to date left his foreign policy largely a blank beyond slogans and the most general of themes.

This was fully in evidence in his pre-trip VFW speech, in which the paucity of specific alternatives to the Obama administration’s policies was as evident as the rhetorical vehemence with which the Obama foreign policy in general was denounced. (Jacob Heilbrunn has furnished a good guide on how to interpret that speech.)

It is possible, of course, that very specific foreign-policy ideas are firmly embedded in the candidate’s head, being kept in occultation there until he is elected. It is at least as plausible that there is much opportunity for those who would enjoy influence with a President Romney, including those most helpful in electing him, would have considerable opportunity to influence the policies that eventually emerge.

In Adelson’s case, so much money is involved that it is hard to believe that money would not buy something on matters he feels most strongly about. When Gingrich was his man, it bought a candidate who dismissed the Palestinians as an “invented” people.

Adelson probably has strong feelings about some of the same fiscal and economic matters that some other very wealthy Americans have strong feelings about. He has griped, for example, about the whole idea of progressive income taxes. But given where he has put both his money and his mouth, matters relating to Israel are of prime importance to him.

Romney and the Republicans have, of course, been trying to use sentiment toward Israel as one of the themes for bashing Obama. Here’s what Romney said about Israel in the VFW speech:

“President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel’s leaders. He was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was. And even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel’s enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem. The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world. And the chorus of accusations, threats, and insults at the United Nations should never again include the voice of the President of the United States.”

The efforts of politicians to win votes by exaggerating differences often makes it hard to recognize how elements of continuity and similarity may be much greater than the differences. The Obama administration’s policies toward Israel mostly have followed in the familiar bipartisan American pattern of great deference to the wishes of the Israeli government of the day.

The billions of aid and security support continue unquestioned, regardless of the difficulties that Israel causes for U.S. interests. The acceptance of, and much U.S. help for, overwhelming Israeli regional military superiority continues.

The Obama administration pointed out the unacceptability of Israeli colonization of occupied territory but then promptly caved to Netanyahu on the issue. On Iran, Obama has adopted the Israeli position about the “unacceptability” of an Iranian nuclear weapon, while saying nothing about the Israeli nuclear arsenal. And at the United Nations, it is hard to figure out what those “accusations, threats, and insults” are that supposedly have been voiced by the President, but under Obama the United States has continued to cast lonely vetoes, against the will and moral sense of the overwhelming majority of the world community, on behalf of Israel on subjects such as Israeli settlements built in occupied territory.

A markedly different U.S. course certainly could be envisioned, but it would not be a course that Romney is recommending and definitely not one that Adelson would want. Any difference between Obama’s policies on Israel and what Romney is suggesting or Adelson is seeking is the difference between usual obeisance to Israel and complete obeisance to it.

A change in this other direction would mean not only furnishing Israel with vetoes of U.N. resolutions about settlements but also not even raising the subject with the Israelis. It would mean being more careful around open microphones in commenting about how much of a problem Netanyahu is. It would mean a bigger act of outsourcing than anything done by any company controlled by Bain Capital: the outsourcing of an important segment of U.S. foreign policy to a foreign government. That is contrary to U.S. interests, no matter which foreign country is involved.

What Adelson is doing also is ultimately contrary to the interests of Israel. Those on the Israeli Left obviously are most inclined to see his activity that way. The blatant nature of his fortune-fueled political activism has also caused some unease in Israel because of the danger of eliciting the most damaging forms of prejudice. Ira Sharkansky of Hebrew University observes:

“It’s hard to imagine a better advertisement for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion than Sheldon Adelson. A Jew who is enormously wealthy on the basis of gambling enterprises on the fringes of respectability, who does not shrink from publicity about using his wealth for Jewish causes, . . . Adelson fits in the long tradition of court Jews, using their wealth to gain access to whoever is ruling in order to benefit the Jewish community. Where Adelson differs from Jewish traditions is in making his wealth felt in front of the curtains rather than behind them.”

To the extent that Sharkansky’s concerns about the exacerbation of anti-Semitism materialize, that would be bad in general and bad for Israel. Even if they do not materialize, Sheldon Adelson is doing no favor to the country he says he loves by promoting policies that condemn it to perpetual conflict and isolation. Sometimes love is blind, even in a man smart enough to have made billions.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

9 comments for “Romney Pleases Political Donor on Israel

  1. John
    July 31, 2012 at 13:58

    Borat, It would be nice if you could take a reflective look at anything. I know an author of excellent books who wrote one in particular because certain newspaper chains wouldn’t touch his articles of which a few were critical of Israeli policy. Those paper chains were Black’s, Murdoch’s and a Canadian chain once run by the Asper family. That’s a lot of bias the other way.
    What right does Israel have to settle the occupied land against all international law? Eisenhower was right telling America to watch out for the mititary-industrial complex. Israel gets all it’s weapondry free, either through an aid package or debt forgiveness. Like the Spanish War in the 30s where Germans tested their weapondry, so Israel seems to be testing all this new American weapondry on a crowded besieged people who are deprived of good safe water, proper food, beset by land confiscations, sudden home demolitions without trial, crop burnings, KKK like harrassment by fanatical settlers, and on and on. Sure there are Palestinian terrorists, they lost a lot, but don’t you ever tell me that Israel doesn’t have it’s own terrorists today. And you call yourself a democracy, yet on the other hand there is this plan for the Greater Israel. Don’t make me laugh.

    • Eddie
      August 4, 2012 at 14:06

      Actually ‘borat’ (aka ‘flat5’), as you know, the US acquisitions of Calif & Texas were sordid examples of contrived imperialism, so those don’t bolster your case. Also, not that it excused the early land-grabbing of the US, but that WAS pre-UN, pre-Geneva Convention, etc – – a more crude era that we have transcended, diplomatically speaking.

  2. HusbandofMoonlight
    July 29, 2012 at 17:38

    Taking into consideration that the “Jews”–long before the “reinvention of Israel in 1948”–by what history will remember as “terrorists”; have been in the “Americas”—-working for themselves first and foremost and always with the full cooperation of “Goyim” whether they were of the European Royalties “hired hands” as when they established the “oldest continuously occupied city in the USA–Santa Fe N.M. (1610 by Ashkenazi Jews)—-to Senatorial representation such as “little Joe Lieberman”—-the Jews have always played a roll in matters and its always to their advantage and no one elses fault but those who cater to them and their fantasies of Choseness: Zionists come in colors and flavors but they are always poison to those who do not participate —and sometime even for those who do.
    As for Native America; we were here as much as 15 thousand years ago; long before the Jews or most of the “others” invented themselves; indeed the Jews cannot show a distinctive DNA—nor a historical antiquity more than 2500 years; and we will be here when the rest of them are memories —and mostly bad ones for history to learn from.
    America—you sold yourselves to the Jews—and the Israelis and you have no one to blame but yourselves for any of the consequences; you are loosers either way.
    One excellent point is Adleson made his “bilions” in the Casino industry in Nevada; an “industry” that would not exist without “loosers”—-since the “loosers” support the Casino with their losses and the Casinos would not exist without them . In fact the Casinos can ‘legally’ ban/bar those who show a proclivity to/for winning; “legally rigging the game in their favor”—-and the “loosers—just keep coming”.
    With the last President a confessed War Criminal; and the present admitting in public forum to “ordering extra-judicial executions” of his fellow “Americans”—how much lower could the USA fall? The world cannot possibly tolerate the USA much longer.

    “If the USA were any other criminal nation the ‘Americans’ would invade the USA to keep the world safe; and they would be justified.”

  3. bluepilgrim
    July 29, 2012 at 11:27

    Look closely at the photograph: even with the cosmetic surgery it’s plain that the man is a Ferengi.
    (CF )

    A counter to all of this is to get people (how?!?) to ignore the hype and advertising, and look up facts and sound analysis for themselves, and vote and act politically by that rather than the emotional appeal, propaganda, and lies.

    I recommend first getting rid of the ‘telescreen’ (cable and satellite), thus preventing further mind control and damage to the brain, and saving a boodle of money instead of giving it to the corporations who are destroying us all. (You pay HOW MUCH every month to be brainwashed??) There’s more than enough on the Internet, and some decent books to replace it, with maybe an occasional cheaply rented movie. Thing is, money buys advertising easily, but buying votes or the machines that change the tallies is more problematic, and you can send the ones caught doing that to prison. You can also talk to your neighbors, join some organizations, and educate the kids.

  4. G Smith
    July 29, 2012 at 10:45

    I remember candidate Obama asking me over and over for 3 dollars or 5 dollars at a time. It appears this candidate is looking more for 3 or maybe 5 million at at time. It strikes me that that might require knee pads and some huge favors in return.

  5. July 28, 2012 at 19:13

    How, exactly, will Romney’s meeting in Israel with a man who operated in a nuclear smuggling ring targeting the United States (Netanyahu), help his US political campaign?

    • Frances in California
      August 1, 2012 at 16:52

      Dear I, what does Romney know about who really runs the world, that we do not?

  6. JonnyJames
    July 28, 2012 at 16:03

    Both factions of the D/R duopoly are in lockstep as usual, despite some superficial or rhetorical differences. Quite predictable and not surprising.

  7. F. G. Sanford
    July 28, 2012 at 15:39

    This story, in the long run, is actually good news. If someone made up a character like Adelson and put him in a novel, everyone would be screaming, “Antisemitism!”. I’m sorry, but you can’t “work” hard enough to “earn” $24 billion. If somebody came up with a drug to cure cancer, it wouldn’t earn $24 billion. His stink will rub off on somebody, sooner or later, and that will likely be good for the rest of us.

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