Sheldon Adelson Isn’t Mr. SuperJew. He’s Just Another Republican Big Business Mogul.
I first wanted to write this piece on May 13, when the Washington Post published casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s op-ed endorsing Donald Trump for President. But I held off because my instincts told me a better moment was coming soon.
That moment arrived this past Monday when Norbert Hofer, the candidate of Austria’s nationalistic and anti-immigration Freedom Party, just barely lost his country’s run-off for president. When the polls closed Sunday night, Hofer was leading his far-left rival with 51.9% of the vote. Only after 750,000 mail-in ballots were counted Monday did officials declare his opponent the winner by a vote of 50.3% to 49.7%.
In Austria, the United States, and democracies around the world, the center appears to have collapsed. Hofer’s rise in Austria has had leaders across the EU scrambling to cope with growing populist sentiment not only to stop immigration and send refugees packing, but to have more authoritarian leaders carry out the job. Simultaneously, Trump’s march to the Republican nomination has the American political establishment scratching its head, wondering why primary voters, rather than choosing an electable Republican to face Hillary Clinton in November, would channel their animus toward Muslims and Mexicans into support for a celebrity demagogue with no real answers to serious questions.
Coincidentally, I was in Vienna in late April, just before Hofer won the first round of Austrian elections with 35% of the vote. During that trip, I visited a branch of Vienna’s Jewish Museum, Museum Judenplatz, which devoted its entire ground floor to an exhibit on the life and work of the late Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi hunter. One wall of the exhibit displayed this Wiesenthal quote, particularly chilling in light of the parallel campaigns going on in Austria and America:
“The most important ingredient of hate speech is still xenophobia. Wherever neofascists appear — be it in England, France, Austria, or the USA — they call on the majority to resist the ‘invasion of foreigners’. The invasion of colored people from former British colonies, the invasion of colored people from the former French colonies, the invasion of Yugoslavian or Turkish guest workers, the invasion of Mexicans or Puerto Ricans. The Jews are not the first-named in these pamphlets, but two thousand years of history demonstrate that they are always the first to be killed.”
Incredibly, earlier this week, one of the wealthiest and most sophisticated countries in Europe and the world came within a hair’s breadth of being led by a party founded by former Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. What does that portend for other Western European democracies — or the USA — where similar hate-driven sentiments are gaining popular support, much less for countries like Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, and Greece, where hate groups have already established their power?
Yet the rise of these hate groups, and Wiesenthal’s related point, seem to have been lost on Sheldon Adelson. Adelson would have the Jewish world, and the Republican Jewish world in particular, believe that his moral compass points to true north when it comes to the survival of Israel and the Jewish people. But his endorsement of Donald Trump — and by implication, Trump’s xenophobic, anti-immigrant, bigoted comments throughout the Presidential campaign — demonstrates that Adelson in fact has no moral compass at all.
What he does have is a big business. He’s chairman and chief executive of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. And of all the reasons Adelson gave for his Trump endorsement, the future of the Jewish people and Israel (in a single passing mention of the Iran nuclear deal) barely figured. Instead, he focused on things one would expect a Republican big business CEO to focus on: his belief that only a Republican President can address issues like the federal debt, government spending, and the economy (conveniently ignoring the hole dug for all those things by our last Republican President); the obligatory reference to Obamacare; and his belief that Trump’s experience as a chief executive qualifies him to handle the Presidency.
I don’t doubt for a moment Adelson’s personal commitment to Israel and its security. I do doubt his real priorities. There can be no Israel without a Jewish people, and right now American Jewry is Israel’s best friend in the world. Endorsing Donald Trump in the face of his xenophobic and bigoted rants flies smack in the face of the long arc of Jewish history, and no one has explained why better than Wiesenthal. But Adelson seems to have some bigger interests than that.
Lest Adelson, Trump, or any of their supporters be tempted to question my own bona fides on this subject, let me put their doubts to rest. My maternal great-great-grandfather emigrated from Bukovina to Jerusalem five decades before Sheldon Adelson was even born. My great-grandfather was helping clear the swamps of Hadera of mosquitoes and malaria before World War One. I have more family in Israel than in the United States. So I need no lessons in Ahavat Yisrael — love of Israel.
If all that isn’t enough, my father was a survivor of Auschwitz, where both his parents perished in the spring of 1944. Donald Trump’s memory may not go back that far. After all, he wasn’t alive yet. But Sheldon Adelson was. If the future of Israel and world Jewry is truly Adelson’s top priority, he should know better than to lend his name and support to a demagogue who employs hate speech to achieve his ends — regardless of party affiliation.