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  January 15, 2017

Trump's Biggest Donor Bankrolls Israeli Right Extremism


Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has also provided major support to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for years, but that relationship might collapse in the coming days, says Shir Hever
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Trump's Biggest Donor Bankrolls Israeli Right ExtremismSHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

If you have been on The Real News site today, you will see we have released a mini-doc on Robert Mercer, titled, The Bizarre Far Right Billionaire Behind Trump's Presidency. That's the person who bailed Trump out when the Trump campaign was at its lowest, and now has put him in office essentially.

Well, here's another one: Sheldon Gary Adelson. He owns the Las Vegas Sands Casino, and he's one of the richest people in the world, and a big supporter of Donald Trump. Let's have a look at what Donald Trump, the candidate Donald Trump, had to say during the campaign in Las Vegas.

(recording)

DONALD TRUMP: The majority of the counties in your state have only one insurer to choose from. Did you read that this morning in your good paper? Good paper. Owned by a great guy: Sheldon. Sheldon. Sheldon Adelson. And a great supporter of Israel. Sheldon Adelson.

(end recording)

SHARMINI PERIES: Who is Sheldon Adelson? How did he become so rich? What kind of impact does he have on the U.S. and Israeli politics? On to talk about all of this with us is Shir Hever. He is a correspondent with The Real News Network based in Heidelberg, Germany. Thanks for joining us, Shir.

SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: Shir, let's start with the back-story of Sheldon Adelson. Who is he? How did he get so rich?

SHIR HEVER: Well, Adelson was born in 1933 in Boston. He grew up there, and he claims at least, that he's a typical rags to riches story, born to a poor family, his father was a cab driver, his mother was a seamstress. He boasts that, at the age of 12, he had his first business, first hawking newspapers, then selling candy. And somehow he emerged to become a giant businessman, and there is something missing, of course, in that story.

You don't know exactly when and how he made that jump. We do know, however, that he started a computer tradeshow company, with a bunch of other friends from his neighborhood, and that company, COMDEX, turned out to be very profitable. And he sold it to the Japanese, SoftBank –- SoftBank because it invests in software –- for $860 million, of which Sheldon Adelson pocketed $500 million, half a billion dollars.

With that money, while all of his friends and partners in that venture decided to retire, he decided to continue on to expand his business empire. He's now 83 years old, and he doesn't seem to rest or to stop making very risky investments, mainly in casinos. But... so now he is not only an owner, but also the CEO, of the Las Vegas Sands Casino. But his biggest casinos are actually in Macao, where he has a casino/convention center resort hotel, where he makes a great deal of money.

SHARMINI PERIES: And Shir, Sheldon Adelson seems to have one foot in Israel and one foot in the United States, when it comes to politics. What are his positions on Israeli politics, Israel/Palestine in particular?

SHIR HEVER: Well, this is a very concerning point, because it's not only that Sheldon Adelson is a Zionist and a firm supporter of Israeli extreme right nationalism, but he also does that in a way that casts, I think, quite a shadow on American Jews. Because he makes statements, such as that he regrets having served in the American army, and he should've instead served in the Israeli army. And that feeds directly into an anti-Semitic discourse in the U.S., as its American Jews are not loyal to the U.S., but actually secretly loyal to Israel.

Of course, Adelson does not speak for the vast majority of American Jews. He's a very extreme figure, and his views about Israel are actually bordering on insane. In 2012, he called on the United States to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran. He made the preposterous claim that there was no mention of the name, "Palestine," anywhere before 1964, which is, of course, absurd. There are thousands of documents. And the ludicrous claim that there were 10 million Jews in the time of Christ. So, this is not a man with very reality-based views, when it comes to Israel.

SHARMINI PERIES: And who does he support politically in Israel? Is he a Netanyahu supporter?

SHIR HEVER: He's a close friend of Netanyahu, and in fact, his massive support of Netanyahu eclipses the kind of support that he gives to various other Zionist causes. He does donate a lot of money to the Birthright NGO, the Birthright campaign, which is a racist campaign that gives Jews from around the world a free trip to Israel, so they can learn that Israel belongs to them. There are no Palestinians; there is no occupation, it's just a country waiting for them. And this Birthright project is funded by Adelson and other donors, but he is by far the biggest one.

And he also donated to other causes in Israel, but the main issue is the newspaper, a newspaper called Israel Hayom –- Israel Today –- which was founded in 2007, and which is basically the pocket newspaper of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister. With this newspaper, Netanyahu is unable to lose an election, because the newspaper is delivered free, anyone can get a copy in Israel. It's absolutely free, and it covers the news in a way that makes Netanyahu look good. No criticism of Netanyahu may appear in this newspaper. Severe criticism of his opponents will be published at length, and there were a lot of debates within Israel about this newspaper, whether it's even legal because it's a form of campaign contribution, which exceeds by far all of the limitations which exist in the Israeli political system on campaign contributions. But if the newspaper is free, how can you call it a campaign contribution?

So, this is a big asset for Netanyahu. There is however, very interesting news from last week. Because there has been a recording of Netanyahu speaking with the owner and chief editor of another very big newspaper in Israel, Yedioth Ahronoth(?), and Netanyahu spoke with the owner of that newspaper and offered him a deal, or the... the deal was discussed between the two and this was caught on tape, where Netanyahu offered to close Israel Today. Basically to destroy Sheldon Adelson's project of this newspaper, in exchange for that other newspaper to start supporting him instead.

So, that's very interesting that Netanyahu is willing to throw his biggest supporter, his patron, under the bus like this.

SHARMINI PERIES: What was Adelson's reaction to the release of this tape?

SHIR HEVER: Adelson did not release any official, any reaction to this yet. At the moment, Netanyahu is trying to prevent the release of the full tape, while claiming that there is nothing, and that nothing criminal has happened. However, if indeed this information is proven to be true, and the full tape is released, which is expected in the next couple of days, it's very likely that criminal charges will be pressed against Netanyahu. At which point Netanyahu will have no choice but to resign from being prime minister.

So, if I were a Sheldon Adelson, I would wait, and maybe shift the support to whoever comes after Netanyahu.

SHARMINI PERIES: What kind of financial contributions has he made in addition to establishing this newspaper in favor of Netanyahu, what type of campaign contributions were made by Adelson to the Netanyahu campaign?

SHIR HEVER: A recent study into this newspaper, Israel Today, found that Adelson lost about 25 cents on every issue of that newspaper delivered since 2007, which amounts to about $190 million. That is by far the biggest contribution. But in addition to that, he also supported things like the Herzilya Center, School of Entrepreneurship, which is... Herzilya Center is a right wing academic center in Israel supporting neoliberal values.

And he also promised to donate to Israel five batteries of Iron Dome rockets, which are missiles... sorry, Iron Dome missiles. Which are supposed to intercept rockets coming from Gaza, but he actually never followed up on that promise. He never bought those batteries.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Let's come over to the United States here. Give us a sense of... well, we know he donates to the Republican Party, in particular. But what kind of donations, how much, who are some of the candidates he has supported, besides Donald Trump?

SHIR HEVER: Adelson's business is based in the United States and in Macao. He lives in the U.S., and he is an American citizen. There were quite a few stories about him in the media about how much money he is spending on donations in the U.S., with the assumption that Adelson's real interests lie in the U.S., and therefore all of his support to Israel is sort of a secondary thing. Main issue is to support the Republican Party.

He's one of the minority of American Jews who support the Republican Party, and who is very right wing. In 2012, he supported Romney, as well as various Super PACs for senate, to the tune of almost $100 million. That's quite a lot, and we don't know the exact amounts because, of course, a lot of these donations are clandestine, or done indirectly through other people. But based on organizations like Opensecrets.org, based on various studies made by the New York Times and other newspapers, this is the amount that was estimated that he has given in the 2012 campaign cycle.

And he promised to make a similar donation to Trump's campaign in 2016. But in the end he ended up donating a lot less. He gave about $25 million to Trump, and another $40 million to the Republican Party for Super PACs supporting senate leadership of the Republican Party, and so on.

So, actually, he gave less in 2016 than he did in 2012. There are also indications that his overall net worth has declined over the years -- that he reached a peak in 2008 -- but hasn't fully recovered from the financial crisis of 2008, in which he lost about $15 billion. Quite a lot of... quite a big loss. But I think the--

SHARMINI PERIES: But that was... may have been less, but it was pretty decisive in terms of the contribution to Trump which led to Trump's victory. Tell us more details about that.

SHIR HEVER: Well, I think that's the interesting thing. First of all, I find it fascinating and completely not what I expected. When I started looking into this, that he actually spent more money on Israel and Zionist causes than he spent in the U.S. So, even though his economic interests lie in the U.S., he seems a lot more interested in supporting Zionism and supporting his friend Netanyahu, something which doesn't really translate into monetary gains, even putting together the 2012 and 2016 campaign cycles together.

Now, Adelson apparently is the biggest donor, the biggest single donor that Trump had, with about $25 million of direct support to Donald Trump. That is very impressive. But even when Adelson gave more money to Romney, Romney did not win the election. So, I would not agree that Adelson was the decisive factor. I think if we're looking to one person, who is responsible for Trump being elected president, that's not Adelson, that's Hillary Clinton. Adelson gave a lot of money, but Trump did not win because of that money.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. The Guardian recently exposed Adelson's ties with Chinese Triad criminal organizations. What happened there? Tell us more about that.

SHIR HEVER: Well, I think this is a very interesting story, and it kind of sheds light on the fact that when we have capital on that scale, you just don't expect to see things done legally. Criminal activities almost come automatically with that size of business deals. Apparently Adelson fired his CEO of his Macao casino in 2010, Steven Jacobs, and Steven Jacobs filed a lawsuit against Adelson, saying –- for wrongful dismissal –- arguing, that what Jacobs was doing was trying to cut all ties to organized crime. Chinese organized crime known as the Triads, which were involved in the casino and apparently they had established various satellite companies that catered to the customers of the casino. Providing things like prostitution, but also extorting protection money, and Jacobs claims to have tried to stop that, and was fired because of that by Trump [sic].

The very interesting trial that ensued, took five years. And the main trial was whether the actual trial for the unlawful firing of Jacobs would take place in the U.S., or in Macao. Adelson handled himself in that trial in a very, very bad way. He lectured the judge. He said that Jacobs went to squeal like a pig to the government, and I think that doesn't make him look innocent at all. And he also gave too much information, frustrating his own lawyers and contradicting his own executives in testimonies at the trial. So, that trial was a disaster, and he lost the trial. Which means that the court decided, that indeed, the case would be handled in the U.S., not in Macao.

As soon as that was decided, Adelson made a settlement with Jacobs -- with Steven Jacobs -- and paid him an undisclosed amount, and Jacobs dropped the charges. So, now we are not going to know... We're not going to have a verdict, at least, about what are the ties between Adelson and the organized crime groups in China.

SHARMINI PERIES: Hmm. Very interesting. I guess this is the beginning of this unraveling. We'll continue to report on Adelson, as this has been assigned to Shir Hever. He's going to be looking into it more over the coming weeks, particularly leading up to President Trump's inauguration and beyond.

Shir Hever, thank you so much for joining us today.

SHIR HEVER: Thank you very much, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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