Sheldon Adelson Holds Court At Republican Jewish Convention

In Vegas, GOP Jews focus on Israel, while contenders focus on big giver and casino mogul.

04/01/14
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Las Vegas — The GOP Jewish faithful descended in force on Sin City, turning out in record numbers and striking a feisty, combative tone at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual conference.

According to organizers, some 400 people attended the gathering, where they were feted with poker and golf tournaments, and wooed by presidential hopefuls.

“In Jewish crowds, I’m tired of keeping my political views quiet,” said Barry Sobel, an asset manager from College Park, Ga. “It’s nice to be in a room of like-minded people.”

Jewish Republicans make up a distinct minority of American Jewry — President Obama won 69 percent of Jewish votes in the 2012 elections, according to exit polls — and a tiny proportion of the national electorate.

However, they wield a political clout that far exceeds their numbers, in large part because Jewish Republicans are some of the GOP’s most important donors. And no donor is more important than the host of this year’s conference, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

The conference was held in the Adelson-owned Venetian hotel and casino, and his presence loomed large over the gathering.

National media dubbed this year’s conference the “Sheldon Primary,” in recognition of the many potential Republican presidential candidates who arrived not only to address the crowds but for private sit-downs with Adelson, who spent a reported $93 million on the 2012 presidential election and has announced he will spend much more on 2016. He also is backing an effort to bring the 2016 Republican National Convention to Las Vegas.

Along with a Shabbat dinner address by Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, and a scotch-tasting with Israeli venture capitalist Jonathan Medved, this year’s conference featured a cattle call of sorts for GOP presidential hopefuls. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke to an exclusive dinner held at Adelson’s private airplane hangar on Thursday. On Saturday, Govs. Chris Christie, Scott Walker and John Kasich, as well as John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, addressed attendees.

As they gathered beneath the Venetian glass chandeliers, painted ceilings and gold leaf ornaments of the hotel’s palatial surroundings, conference-goers echoed many of the hot-button concerns that have dominated the GOP discourse — creeping socialism, the IRS, Benghazi. But one issue consistently stood out: Israel.

Conferees could be overheard sharing tales of Democrats’ fecklessness toward the Jewish state, and it was invocations of Israel that drew the loudest applause during the speeches.

“This administration has played Jews for suckers,” Sobel said, accusing the Obama administration of “trying to put Israel in its place.”

“Right now, Jews need to be one-issue voters,” he added.

Adelson, too, has long declared that Israel is his top political issue, above even banning online gambling.

Sensitivities surrounding Israel landed Christie in a bit of hot water during his otherwise well-received speech. The New Jersey governor was holding his audience spellbound with a rapturous description of his recent trip to Israel when he tripped a rhetorical landmine.

“I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across, and just felt, personally, how extraordinary that was to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day,” Christie told the crowd.

Although Christie received a standing ovation at the end of his speech, his use of the phrase “occupied territories” upset some attendees who felt that such wording casts aspersions on Israel’s claim to the West Bank.

“Chris Christie either does not understand the issues affecting Israel or he’s not a friend of Israel,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Klein said he brought up the remarks with Adelson, and Politico subsequently reported that Christie had later apologized to Adelson in a private meeting.

The RJC’s executive director, Matthew Brooks, dismissed Christie’s remark as “a slip of the tongue.”

“I have every confidence that Governor Christie is an unabashed, unequivocal supporter of Israel,” Brooks said.

Christie was not the only candidate making an effort to connect with the crowd on a Judaic level. Walker spoke of how his son’s name, Matthew, translates from the Hebrew as “a gift from God,” and of lighting menorah candles at the Wisconsin governor’s mansion. Kasich described his effort to build a Holocaust memorial on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse.

Bolton brought the crowd to its feet with his fierce denunciations of the Obama administration’s Iran diplomacy and his call for the United States to firmly back the Jewish state, even if Israel should choose to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

But the candidates also touted their broader appeal, with Christie and Walker citing their experience as governors of traditionally Democratic states and Kasich defending his decision to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, though without explicitly referencing Medicaid or the act known as Obamacare.

All the speakers also pledged, with varying degrees of specificity, to pursue a muscular and assertive foreign policy.

“Unfortunately, we see within our own party a rising tide of what can only be called isolationism,” Bolton said.

That more isolationist strain in the GOP is particularly associated with a presumed presidential hopeful who was not at the Las Vegas conference, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Brooks said that Paul had been invited to attend but had declined in favor of a family commitment.

Brooks said the RJC’s focus was on this year’s midterm congressional elections rather than 2016. Like many Republicans, he is hopeful the party can take control of the Senate. Brooks said the RJC was aiming to broaden its outreach as part of the campaign.

Some of the politicians in attendance seemed to be tailoring their pitches more narrowly. Kasich made it clear that he had a particular target in mind as he concluded his speech to the conclave: “Hey listen, Sheldon, thanks for inviting me.” 

editor@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

04/09/2014 - 12:14

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I just read that Thomas Friedman of the NYT said that Sheldon Adelson is making Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran happy and hurting Israel. This is more nonsense and anti-semitic fascism from Friedman. Since when is wealth and speaking out on politics disreputable in America? Apparently, if you are Jewish and conservative! Friedman's mind is dangerously flawed. Has he criticized George Soros, the Jewish billionaire who has funded many left-wing organizations? No, because Soros criticizes Israel and supports socialists.

You don't have to agree with Thomas Friedman, but to refer to him as anti-Semitic fascist is beyond nonsense. The sad thing is that there are real anti-semites in the world but, by lumping everyone that you disagree with under that label, you trivialize it. So, when the next Hitler comes to power, he would be lumped together with people like Thomas Friedman, no better, no worse. Is that what you want?

If you want a taste or real anti-Semitism, take a trip to places like Hungary. Or, just try walking around Paris or London while wearing a kippa. Then you'll see what real anti-Semitism is like, and it is not Thomas Friedman.

'It is truly disturbing that one person, whose views are completely outside the Jewish mainstream...'

To anonymous,
You have no idea if Sheldon Adelson is outside the Jewish mainstream. Do you know his rabbi? Do you attend his synagogue? Since when is Democratic party dogma Judaism? Please wake up. The list of lies, intolerance, and bad governing policies that we see every day in our nation emanating from Democratic operatives is too long to detail here. You want to discuss politics, fine. But please open your eyes to the notion that the Democratic party should not be your religion.

Actually, I do know that Sheldon Adelson is outside the Jewish mainstream. I have no idea who his rabbi is or what shul he davens in. But, I do know that in the 2012 presidential election, Obama got 70% of the Jewish vote and that puts Adelson outside the Jewish mainstream. The point is actually conceded by one of the people interviewed in this article:

“In Jewish crowds, I’m tired of keeping my political views quiet,” said Barry Sobel, an asset manager from College Park, Ga. “It’s nice to be in a room of like-minded people.”

Please be assured that the Democratic party is not my religion, but neither is Sheldon my prophet. The position taken by the RJC and the litmus test set up by Sheldon is well to the right of AIPAC. Most members of the Knesset would not meet Adelson's tests for political correctness.

As for the Republican party, I have no idea what it stands for anymore other than to oppose Obama on anything and everything. Basically, to say no. That is possible to do when you're not running the government, not so easy to do when you are.

It is truly disturbing that one person, whose views are completely outside the Jewish mainstream and whose main claim to fame is that he made mega millions through gambling casinos, should carry so much weight.

That said, here is a sobering thought for all the Republicans candidates genuflecting to him in his private hangar: Every single candidate that Sheldon backed in the 2012 election lost.

And, Mr. Brooks consider this: How are you going to broaden the reach of the RJC by focusing on just one issue (even if that issue is more important than online gambling)?

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