Forward Thinking

Anti-Sheldon Adelson Vote Signals Bibi's Mounting Woes

By Yael Even Or


Israeli lawmakers have voted for a bill intended to prevent the free distribution of Sheldon Adelson’s Israel Hayom newspaper — a media outlet that is considered to be a virtual mouthpiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Adelson, the controversial founder and owner of the newspaper, made headlines last week when he said: “Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state — so what?” That comment triggered a new round of criticism on Adelson’s involvement in Israeli politics, and his role as Netanyahu’s de facto media patron.

“Mr Adelson is not here,” said opposition Labor party lawmaker Eitan Cabel said while celebrating the bill’s advancement. “However, his spirit is here in this plenary.”

But it wasn’t only Netanyahu’s political enemies who voted for a measure that — if it clears hurdles to final passage — could effectively silence Adelson.

Many members of his ruling coalition also voted for the measure. That was a sure sign of the increasing fragility of the government, especially coming just days after environment minister Amir Peretz quit in a huff over the budget.

So what allowed the bill to pass even though it takes aim at a prominent and highly public ally of Netanyahu?

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation usually decides the government position on each bill — and orders all governing coalition members to vote accordingly.

But this time, it took the step of granting ministers the freedom to vote as they please.

The results were eye-popping — and worrisome for Netanyahu.

The vote in favor of the bill was 43-23. Ten members of coalition party Yesh Atid voted in favor as did 12 out of 14 parliament members of Yisrael Beiteinu, the party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Now, the bill will move on to a Knesset committee. If the bill eventually passes, it would be more than a black eye for Netanyahu. Some insiders in his Likud Party say it could lead to the collapse of the coalition because of the infighting that it could spark.

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Adelson and Saban Try To Out-Hawk Each Other

By Nathan Guttman

Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson / Getty Images

What do you get when you put two of the largest pro-Israel donors — Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban — on one stage?

For participants at the Israeli American Council’s inaugural conference, this meeting of Jewish finance titans produced several historical insights about the roots of the Palestinian people (Adelson: they have none); a bit of advice on how to deal with Iran (Saban: “bomb the sons of bitches”); and some media criticism (Adelson: “I don’t like journalism” — especially not the Forward.)

Adelson and Saban, one a mega donor to the Republican Party, the other a top backer of the Clintons, may have their differences when it comes to U.S. politics. But on Israel, both engaged in one-upmanship, trying to outdo each other’s hawkishness.

When discussing a possible nuclear deal with Iran, which is now being negotiated between Iran and several international powers, both expressed skepticism. Adelson said that if the deal does not satisfy Israel, then putting himself in the shoes of Israel’s prime minister, he “would not just talk. I would take action.”

But Saban went further. “A stick and a carrot, yes — but I think that we showed too many carrots and a very small stick,” he said of the Obama administration negotiators.

And what would he do if he were Benjamin Netanyahu facing an unsatisfactory deal? “I would act,” the Los Angeles-based media magnate said. “I would bomb the daylight out of these sons of bitches.”

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Forward 50's Unexpected Stars

By Jane Eisner

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Hindy Poupko Galena and her daughter, Ayelet.

I learn a lot about leadership by overseeing the painstaking but ultimately rewarding process of compiling the Forward 50 each year, of trying to identify the American Jews who have had the greatest impact on our lives in a variety of fields, from politics to culture to sports. And I learn even more about leadership by analyzing how these 50 profiles are read.

One of the astonishing aspects of doing journalism online is that we can ascertain how many people click on a given story down to the person. In print, you can only make educated guesses about what stories are read, whether a snappy headline or a compelling photograph will entice the reader to delve deeper, or to turn the page. But online we know precisely how much traffic every item that we post receives, and this can help us understand what touches readers.

For this year’s Forward 50, readers have been touched by the heartfelt, the unusual, the unexpected. As of Monday evening, Nov. 12, the first day all 50 profiles were posted online, the most read was not about the largest political donor in the land, or the superstar singer, or the second ranking leader in the House of Representatives, or even the King of Comedy Central.

No, the most read profile was of Hindy Poupko Galena, a New York City mother who chronicled her baby daughter’s struggle against a fatal disease and galvanized an outpouring of support through cyberspace.

And the surprises continue.

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Sarah and Sheldon and Mindy, Oh My!

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Now that the serious stuff is out of the way, let’s list the best (or worst) Jewish viral videos of the 2012 election cycle.

Silverman on Adelson

Comedian Sarah Silverman offered sexual favors to billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson in this video from the group behind 2008’s Great Schlep. Silverman’s deal: Donate to Democrats instead and, well… watch the video. Turns out she didn’t have to worry so much - nearly all of the candidates Adelson backed were defeated last night.

“Tank you Mister Obama!”

Unlike the Jewish Democrats, Jewish Republicans didn’t have a dedicated super PAC churning out Jewish-themed viral videos aimed at making Jewish Democrats look ridiculous online. That’s okay, because the Jewish Democrats did a fine job making themselves look ridiculous online on their own.

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Senate: McCaskill Beats Akin (MO), Berkley-Heller (NV) Too Close to Call

By J.J. Goldberg

The strangest Jew v. Jew race in the country pits Nevada Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Shelley Berkley vs. former mentor-turned-nemesis Sheldon Adelson’s money backing GOP incumbent Dean Heller to the hilt – the polls showed Heller leading, but it’s too close to call.

Senate incumbent Claire McCaskill (D) beats Republican challenger Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin.

Montana Senate incumbent Jon Tester (D) was expected to lose, but the race is too close to call.

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Sheldon vs. Shelley: Inside Vegas' Ugly Jew v. Jew Tiff

By J.J. Goldberg

Shelley Berkley

Politico’s Steve Friess has a fascinating story online today about the longstanding personal feud between two of Nevada’s “most prominent Jewish figures,” hotelier Sheldon Adelson and Rep. Shelley Berkley, who’s running for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican family-values guy John Ensign. It’s a gripping look at how Adelson operates — the intensity and relentlessness of his personal grudges, his obsessive hatred of unions and Democrats and the lengths to which he’s willing to go to get his way.

One twist that’s particularly intriguing: Berkley, one of the most hawkish pro-Israel Democrats in the House, would bring a rare across-the-aisle voice into the Senate for Adelson’s hard-line Middle East views. But that doesn’t seem to matter — Sheldon’s got it in for Shelley, and nothing else matters, including the causes he claims to hold dear. Here’s Friess:

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Sheldon Says Obama Can't Be Trusted

By Josh Nathan-Kaziss

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Republican Jewish mega-donor Sheldon Adelson writes that Barack Obama can’t be trusted on Israel in a opinion piece posted today.

The gambling billionaire has committed tens of millions of dollars to backing Republicans this election cycle, giving millions to a pro-Romney super PAC.

In his op-ed, Adelson hit a litany of Republican talking points new and old in portraying Obama as a danger to Israel.

“[W]e need to take seriously the question: What are his second term plans when he no longer needs the Jewish vote?” Adelson wrote.

Adelson cites the November 2011 “open mic” incident in which Obama and French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy complained together about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also notes Obama’s friendships with leftist and Palestinian professors.

“Is Obama’s campaign rhetoric in support of Israel only creating “space” till after the election?” Adelson wrote. “These questions cause genuine worry in Israel.”

Adelson’s piece appared in JNS, the startup Jewish newswire that distributes content from Israel Hayom, the Israeli paper Adelson owns.

An opinion piece in the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz argued yesterday that Israel Hayom is “actively campaigning for Romney’s election.”

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The RJC Wants to Give You An iPad 3

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Getty Images
Casino billionaire and Romney super PAC donor Sheldon Adelson

Want a new iPad 3? Spend fifty hours phone banking for the Republican Jewish Coalition and the $599 model is yours.

Only have forty hours? That’s okay — the RJC can still hook you up with the $499 version.

RJC volunteers in California, Washington, New York and Florida who rack up phone banking hours between now and the election are eligible for the prizes, according to RJC executive director Matt Brooks.

“It’s a token way of saying thank you for people who are giving up a lot of time,” Brooks told the Forward.

Volunteers who make calls for 30 hours will receive an older iPad model, and volunteers who work for 20 hours will get a $100 gift card.

Political groups don’t usually offer volunteers expensive incentives like iPads, according to Michael Tobman, a New York-based political consultant who’s run volunteer phone banks and paid phone banks. “iPads seem a bit excessive, but if the money’s there and a group wants to do that, I guess the new normal is being defined upward,” Tobman said. “Generally it’s pizza, thanks, and credit for having done it.”

Phone banks organized by the National Jewish Democratic Council have not offered similar incentives, according to that group’s president and CEO David Harris.

The expensive gifts are another sign of the economic heft of the Republican group, which released a lengthy video this week featuring Israelis criticizing President Obama’s record on Israel.

Casino billionaire and Romney super PAC donor Sheldon Adelson is a major supporter of the RJC.

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Sheldon's Latke Envy

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Sheldon Adelson

What’s a few million among friends? Sheldon Adelson says he doesn’t remember the size of the first check he cut this election cycle.

“I gave 5 million or 10 million – I forget – to Newt Gingrich,” the Jewish mega-donor told Politico in a rare interview published last night.

(A reminder, Mr. Adelson: It was $5 million, though your wife gave another $5 million a few weeks later).

Adelson, a billionaire casino mogul, has made $70 million in political donations so far this cycle, according to the Politico story. That number, which includes undisclosed donations to political groups that aren’t required to reveal the names of their supporters, brings Adelson close to the $100 million he has said he will be willing to spend during the race.

Adelson also told Politco why he had been spending so much money on the race. The casino magnate said that he fears retribution from President Obama in a second term for his support of Republican candidates. Politico also reported that Adelson is driven by a particular dislike for Obama, and by a desire for an administration that aligns with his anti-union and hawkish pro-Israel views.

The interview didn’t really break much ground. But it did reveal the possible real reason for Adelson’s animosity towards the White House: Latke envy.

“[If] I’m fortunate enough to be invited to another [White House] Hanukkah party, I want two potato pancakes,” he said. “Because last time I was there, they ran out of them.”

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Bibi Picks Adelson's Paper to Deny Meddling

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Sheldon Adelson

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied interfering in U.S. elections today, he chose an odd platform to air his position.

He gave the interview to an Israeli newspaper owned by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a top Republican donor who has vowed to give tens of millions of dollars to defeat President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu’s denial came days after he chastised the Obama administration for its failure to take a harder line against Iran. The attack, made in English at a press conference, was condemned by Democrats as an effort to bolster Mitt Romney’s presidential bid.

Netanyahu told an Israeli paper in an interview previewed today that the charge was “[N]onsense because the issue that is guiding me is not the U.S. elections, but the centrifuges in Iran, and what can I do if the centrifuges in Iran are inconsiderate of the U.S. political timetable?”

The Israeli paper was Israel Hayom, a free daily owned by the American Jewish casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Adelson and his wife have given $10 million to Mitt Romney’s super PAC, making them some of this election cycle’s most prominent political donors.

Israel Hayom, for its part, is considered to have a heavy pro-Netanyahu slant.

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Adelsons Get Touchy

By Seth Berkman

Sheldon Adelson is famously publicity shy, but his daughter may have taken things a bit too far at the Republican National Convention.

Shelley Adelson confronted a producer for the liberal Democracy Now show after he tried to question the casino billionaire dad about his massive donations to GOP causes.

The younger Adelson allegedly grabbed producer Eric Burke’s camera and tossed it to the ground during a heated dispute outside Adelson’s private suite at the convention.

Burke told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman that Sheldon Adelson was in a wheelchair, being taken to his suite, followed by GOP kingmaker Karl Rove. Burke approached Adelson and asked his thoughts on the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket, to which Adelson replied, “No comment.”

Burke’s follow-up question, “How much money are you going to spend on this election?” was met with resistance by Adelson’s daughter and a handler, who tried to stop Burke from walking any further next to Adelson.

Video on Democracy Now’s web site shows a camera being thrown to the ground shortly after this exchange. Adelson’s daughter later apologized to Burke, according to the show.

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Order the Veal, Sheldon

By Nathan Guttman

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Jewish Republicans closed Monday night at a fancy Cuban-style restaurant in Tampa’s Ybor City district. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson entered the Columbia restaurant accompanied by RJC director Matt Brooks and what appeared to be a bodyguard.

Adelson, sporting a short sleeved shirt in an otherwise jacket and tie crowd, seemed at home with the many Republican delegates and operatives filling the restaurant, where a strip steak costs $33 and ‘La Reina Isabella’ veal chop goes for $29.95.

Noticing the interest from journalists in the restaurant, the Adelson party quickly moved to another part of the restaurant, where they were later joined by another Jewish Republican, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach who is running for Congress in New Jersey’s 9th congressional district and has recently received Adelson’s endorsement.

Also speaking to the Adelson’s was CBS Radio reporter Dan Raviv, author of books on Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

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Adelsons Heading for Tampa

By Seth Berkman

nathan guttman

As Hurricane Isaac rumbled ominously off the coast, two of the Republican Party’s biggest supporters were expected to touch down in Tampa for the Republican National Convention Monday.

According to CNN.com, Miriam Adelson will be in attendance for Mitt Romney’s speech and other activities this week, alongside her husband, noted Republican donor Sheldon Adelson.

One of Miriam Adelson’s main contributions at the convention is the Woman Up! Pavilion, which is sponsored by the YG Network, and named in her. According to its web site, the Woman Up! initiative was launched earlier this year to “research, communicate and prioritize the issues most important to women.” Among the events scheduled at the pavilion this week include a session on “The use of social media and other tactics to expose fraud,” and panels including Members of the European Parliament from Iceland, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Czech Republic.

To celebrate the 92nd anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment this month, the pavilion will also feature a women’s suffrage museum.

This year, the Adelsons have already donated $5 million to the YG Action Fund, in addition to $36 million to individual candidates and quasi-independent super-PAC’s. Sheldon has been rumored to be willing to spend $100 million to help elect Republican candidates this November.

Miriam Adelson was born in Tel Aviv and is noted for her medical work. Her parents left Poland for Haifa before the Holocaust.

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Keep Obama's Rabbis

By Alissa Wise and Brant Rosen

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Barack Obama

The Republican Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee for Israel this week urged a group of rabbis supporting President Barack Obama’s reelection to purge members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council from its ranks. The conservative groups claimed they were shocked by the inclusion in the “Rabbis for Obama” list of those whose “values are representative of a small and extreme group of anti-Israel activists.”

We are deeply dismayed by this cynical attempt at political gain through smears, half-truths and innuendos that only serve to create division in the Jewish community.

It is certainly true that many of us on the JVP Rabbinical Council are deeply critical of Israeli policy (and the U.S. policy that too often enables it). It is not at all true, however, that such criticisms are “extreme” or marginal. Indeed, increasing numbers of Jews and Jewish leaders are finding the courage to speak out publicly against Israel’s practice of home demolition, forced eviction, settlement expansion and administrative detention, as well as its widespread restriction on Palestinians’ freedom of movement in the West Bank and Gaza.

Jewish Voice for Peace rabbis were not the only ones singled out by RJC and ECI’s smear. William Kristol included members of the J Street Rabbinical Cabinet and Rabbis for Human Rights as well. Indeed, there are many perspectives within the American rabbinical community about how to create a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. At the same time, we share a commitment to open and honest conversation about how a negotiated solution can ensure security and human rights for all.

By a margin of more than 2 to 1, according to the Public Religion Research Institute American Jews say that good diplomacy rather than military strength is the best way to ensure peace (63% vs. 24% respectively).

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Sheldon's $60M Waste of Time

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Sheldon Adelson

Sheldon Adelson’s libel lawsuit against a Democratic Jewish group has little chance of success because the casino billionaire is a public figure and the claims in question appeared in court documents, two media law experts told the Forward.

The $60 million lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in New York accuses the National Jewish Democratic Council of defaming Adelson with accusations that he personally approved of prostitution at his Macao casino.

Experts noted that the NJDC is likely protected by the fact that Adelson is a public figure, and that the prostitution allegation came from another court case.

“I suspect that this lawsuit will die a quiet death,” said Robert D. Balin, co-chair of the media law practice at the law firm David Wright Tremaine and adjunct professor of publishing law at Columbia University Law School.

Balin and Charles Tobin, chair of the media practice group at the law firm Holland & Knight, based their analysis on a description of Adelson’s complaint by the Forward.

Adelson’s status as a public figure makes any defamation claim particularly difficult to prove, the expets said. Adelson would need to prove that the NJDC acted with “actual malice,” a high bar that Balin said would essentially mean that Adelson would need to show that the NJDC published the claim knowing it was false.

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Sheldon's $60M Suit Over Hooker Claim

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Sheldon Adelson has filed a libel suit against the leadership of the National Jewish Democratic Council over a claim that Adelson condoned prostitution at his casinos, Bloomberg News reported today.

The $60 million complaint, filed in federal court in New York, named the NJDC, CEO David Harris, and chairman Marc Stanley, according to Bloomberg.

Adelson claimed that a statement posted on the NJDC website alleging that Adelson had approved of prostitution at his casinos in Macao amounted to libel. The suit demands $10 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.

The NJDC received heavy pushback from establishment Jewish groups over the statement, which called on Mitt Romney to stop accepting Adelson’s donations. The group pulled the statement and a related petition in mid-July, a week after it was posted online.

In a statement issued today, the NJDC said that the organization planned to fight the lawsuit. “”We will not be bullied into submission, and we will not be silenced by power. This is not Putin’s Russia, and in America, political speech regarding one of the most well-known public figures in our country is a fundamental right,” the group wrote in its statement. “To be sure, referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures – as we did – is wholly appropriate.”

Earlier this week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee apologized to Adelson for its own similar allegation about prostitution at Adelson’s Macao casinos. According to reports, the apology came as the result of a letter to the DCCC from Adelson’s attorneys threatening a lawsuit.

The text of Adelson’s lawsuit against the NJDC could not immediately be obtained.

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Mitt Romney Attacks....the Kibbutz

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Who Knew? Mitt Romney, who posed with a statue of Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray, is no fan of the kibbutz.

Maybe Mitt Romney didn’t know what he was talking about when he praised Israeli culture.

The Republican presidential hopeful controversially explained during a trip to Israel last week that the country’s economic success was due to its culture.

Now it turns out he’s no fan of the kibbutz.

“America is not a collective where we all work in a kibbutz or we’re all in some little entity, instead it’s individuals pursuing their dreams and building successful enterprises which employ others and they become inspired as they see what has happened in the place they work and go off and start their own enterprises,” Romney said at a Chicago fundraiser today.

In the quote, Romney contrasts the pursuit of dreams and the building of successful business with the kibbutz, the collective farming model that was central to the early economic and political life of Israel.

It’s hard to separate Israel’s economic culture from the country’s kibbutznik roots, so today’s comment seems to make the culture statement look even more like a gaffe.

That said, it’s hard to imagine uber-capitalist Romney supporter Sheldon Adelson taking offense at a slight against the socialist kibbutzim.

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Sheldon Whiffs on Gordis, Loves Shwarma

By Nathan Jeffay

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Sheldon Adelson

There are few people who have given more money to the right-leaning Jerusalem think tank the Shalem Center than Sheldon Adelson. In 2007, his family foundation bestowed $4.5 million on it.

But Adelson didn’t have much to say about one of its best-known scholars.

Several journalists awaited Adelson as he emerged from today’s fundraiser for Mitt Romney, and we escorted him to the elevator. What does he think about the alienation of young American Jews from their community? He answers: “It’s not alienation, it’s the absence of understanding.”

What about Daniel Gordis’ writings on this subject? Gordis is a rabbi, the Shalem Center’s Senior Vice President and one of the most respected Israel analysts around.

Adelson gave several different disjointed responses. “I don’t care about who, I don’t even know (that) I’ve heard the name Gordis,” he said. “It’s his opinion. There are 7 million people in the world and he’s only got one opinion.”

Adelson also joked that his reason for coming to Israel was to eat shwarma.

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Small Talk and Big Hopes for Romney

By Nathan Jeffay

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Mitt Romney

The gatekeeper hands a man two name badges, explaining that staff were unsure how he likes his name spelled so they made both. “Can I sell you one back for $50,000?” he asks with a smile, a reference to the price per couple at this exclusive fundraising breakfast with Mitt Romney.

At that moment the gatekeeper becomes flustered — a photographer behind her is snapping at the name badges, which reveal who the donors are attending this 50 grand-a-couple Romney fundraiser. In a frenzy she takes her papers, upturns them, and makes an improvised secrecy cover.

Lisa Spies, director of both Jewish Outreach for Romney Victory and Women for Romney Victory, welcomes everyone individually with an excited cry and some donor-specific small talk. “I feel like everyone in Israel knows each other,” she tells a small huddle of people chatting. Well, the circle of Republican Americans who can afford this kind of price for breakfast is pretty small.

Robert “Woody” Johnson, owner of the New York Jets, chats to a Hasidic businessman with long side curls, dressed in a long black coat. “We read ‘Start Up Nation’ about you guys,” Johnson says with admiration.

Suddenly everyone turns their head. The billlionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, key funder of the Romney campaign, has walked in to the hotel lobby, leaning on his wife Miriam for support. He was kept waiting, leaning on the back of a settee for several minutes — not out of disrespect but so that he could make an entrance as the unofficial guest of honor.

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Sheldon Tries To Change the Subject

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Sheldon Adelson

A day after a investigative report raised questions about payments allegedly approved by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson to a Chinese official, it looks like someone is trying to change the subject.

Both the Jerusalem Post and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency are running prominent stories on their front pages today about the Jewish billionaire. But neither of the articles focused on the still-developing corruption scandal. Instead, they reported a $13 million pledge that Adelson and his wife have made to Birthright Israel, which sends American Jews on free Israel trips.

The intersection between Adelson’s massive philanthropic giving and his business and political ventures are drawing increased attention amidst his financial involvement in the U.S. presidential election. Last week, the National Jewish Democratic Council pulled a campaign that called on Mitt Romney to refuse further political gifts from Adelson.

The NJDC’s retreat came amidst heavy pressure from leading representatives of the Jewish community, including Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League and the leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America.

From the start, the opposition to the NJDC’s attack on Adelson was placed in the context of Adelson’s Birthright philanthropy. In his Huffington Post blog post that began the wave of sentiment against the NJDC, Alan Dershowitz cited Adelson’s role in supporting Birthright. Days later, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a Republican candidate for Congress from New Jersey, directly argued in a column that the NJDC leadership should have been kinder to Adelson because of his Birthright giving.

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