Sheldon Adelson is Buying the 2012 Election, But He Bought Young Jews a Long Time Ago


I'm throwing Sheldon Adelson to the wolves. Does that mean I'm a neurotic Jew, a self-hating Jew, a liberal Jew, a secular Jew, a kvetching Jew, an ethical Jew, a mentschy Jew, or some combination of the above?

Here's the history of my relationship with Sheldon (and no, it's not sexual):

In 2006, I traveled to Israel with Birthright Israel, an organization that sends Jewish youth, ages 18-26, on free 10-day trips to their "homeland." To date, some 300,000 Jews from around the world have participated in this program. I loved practically every minute of this adventure, which was coordinated by a fairly secular tour provider, Oranim (unfortunately, no longer affiliated with Birthright).

I subsequently returned to Israel three times as a "leader" of Oranim Birthright Israel trips. Yes, Birthright Israel produced the desired effect of giving me strong and lasting connections with Israeli people, culture, history, and heritage. Of course, there was a little propaganda along the way, but there wasn't enough to dissuade me from encouraging dozens of my friends to take trips of their own to check it out. After all, a free trip is a free trip.

I remember when, about five years ago, I learned that a Las Vegas casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson, was donating $20 million to Birthright Israel. I didn't really think too much about who Adelson was at the time, and he most certainly wasn't known as the the polarizing far-right wing zealot that he is today. Back then, I was thrilled that Adelson's generosity would allow Birthright to continue, and perhaps even put the organization in a financial position to expand its offerings. In addition to supporting Birthright, Adelson gave $25 million in 2006 to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, another worthy cause. I had no reason to think that Sheldon Adelson had alterior motives, especially when he presented himself as a typical Jewish philanthropist.

I won't tell you anything you don't already know: Sheldon Adelson is trying to buy the 2012 Presidential election, and even though he isn't breaking any laws, his rhetoric and style are distasteful. Ever since his lackey Newt Gingrich dropped out of the race, Mitt Romney has become his new favorite son. In Jerusalem last week, Adelson was Romney's puppeteer; Romney is basing his Middle East foreign policy on a single individual who controls his purse strings. And that, for lack of a better term, is just plain wrong. A 79-year-old crazy who will, statistically, likely be dead within the decade, should not be putting millions of people's lives at risk as the threat of a war with Iran remains on the table. (And it's not like I'm feeling bad for the Chinese government or anything, 'cause they pretty much suck too, but Sheldon's businesses in Asia are pretty shady.)

That said, AARP Adelson epitomizes the theory that as people age, they shift further to the right politically. And all of this grandstanding is making secular Jews and political moderates like me lean away from organized religion and further to the left politically. What it comes down to is simple: Sheldon Adelson is not like me. Mitt Romney is not like me. And Paul Ryan is not like me. I don't trust that any of these men have my short or long-term interests in mind.

I want this piece to start a dialogue for fellow Jews, especially those people who have participated in Birthright Israel trips. (I'd also like to have Chuck Klosterman, the New York Times' new ethicist, chime in.) Should I now give any money that went toward my Israel trip back to Sheldon Adelson? Should I give it to an organization that opposes Adelson? Or should I sit back and do nothing? I'd love to hear your thoughts, because, at this moment, this is quite the quandary.