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Sheldon Adelson: The American behind Israel's right wing

Sheldon Adelson, a Gingrich backer, has a big wallet and is funding Israel's right-wing media.

Sheldon adelson newt gingrich 2012 2 8Enlarge
Sheldon Adelson, chief executive of the Las Vegas, at the Venetian Resort in Macau on Aug. 27, 2007. Adelson, an American, now owns the largest conservative newspaper in Israel and is a major backer of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. (Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — As more and more people wonder how long Newt Gingrich will persevere against the growing inevitability of a Mitt Romney victory, one man appears to be holding firm: Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino mogul who just poured another $5 million into Gingrich’s coffers.

Superficially, the two men appear to have little in common. Gingrich, 69, is a lifelong politician and consummate Washington insider whose trajectory has famously taken him through three wives and three religious renderings: the Lutheranism of his birth, the adaptable Southern Baptism of most of his adult life, and now, a Bible-thumping new Catholicism.

Adelson, 78, born to Jewish Ukrainian immigrants in Dorchester, Mass., crawled his way out of the New England working class and, in addition to his vast wealth, is known for a stable and enduring second marriage to Miriam Ochshorn Adelson, with whom he has two children.

She is apparently the key to the one subject that links the two men, the country of her birth, Israel.

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According to most reports, Adelson got to his mid-fifties before ever really thinking about Israel. Then, a single trip to the Jewish homeland changed his life. When he got back to the United States, the divorced Adelson started telling friends he was interested in meeting an Israeli wife. A mutual friend set him up with Miriam, a physician and expert on addictions. Together they have developed two principal enduring passions and philanthropic commitments: centers for the treatment of drug addicts, and Israel.

The Adelsons have always maintained a mainstream but clearly right-wing line regarding Israel. They are major supporters of the American Israel Political Action Committee, of Birthright, an organization that brings Jewish youth on “roots” trip to Israel, and they love Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s conservative prime minister, as well as Gingrich, who has long been a fervent defender of Israel.

Not much is known about Gingrich in Israel, but it is thanks to support from Adelson that, in Israeli media reports, he is almost universally referred to as “Netanyahu’s friend.” There is no public information confirming an actual bond between the prime minister and the former speaker of the House, but Netanyahu is, coincidentally, a thrice-married politician known for a messy personal life and for playing to his religious and conservative base.

And both men benefit greatly from Adelson’s support.

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It was in order to help a future Netanyahu candidacy that Adelson, in 2007, established Israel Hayom (Israel Today) a daily tabloid newspaper that quickly rose to have the widest circulation in the country. The newspaper was founded on the conviction, widespread among the Israeli right-wing since Netanyahu’s first term in office in the mid-90s, that the media held a deep-seated antipathy to Netanyahu.

A much-repeated rumor, impossible to verify, has it that Adelson has told Israeli friends he is happy to lose even $150 or $200 million dollars on the venture.

Conservative estimates hold that for now, he has lost at least several tens of millions of dollars. The paper boasts an extensive and expensive list of journalists and analysts, it is printed in massive quantities and distributed widely and for free, yet it does not display advertising in sufficient quantities to offset significant costs. It is a rich man’s luxury.

Israelis uncomfortable with the paper’s big shadow have bestowed it with a jokey moniker, Bibiton, a play on Netanyahu’s nickname, Bibi, and on the Hebrew word for newspaper, Iton.

On Thursday, new revelations about just how deeply Netanyahu is entwined with the Adelson's newspaper came to light, and now threaten to blow open an unsavory, and perhaps illegal, link between the American billionaire and the prime minister.

Israel’s Channel 10 revealed Wednesday night that Dror Eydar, a media columnist for the Adelson-owned daily, who frequently pens irate articles accusing the Israeli media of an anti-Netanyahu bias, is simultaneously on the prime minister’s payroll, as a speechwriter and adviser.

This is the first indication that a direct connection may exist between the prime minister’s staff and the paper, which while right-wing and pro-Netanyahu, has always maintained a line of neutrality.

It remains unclear just how much the scandal will affect one of the largest media outlets in the