Most billionaires spend their money on mansions, yachts, airplanes and much younger wives. But not so casino mogul Sheldon Adelson who died in Las Vegas on January 11th, aged 87.
Adelson rose from humble origins. He used his $33 billion plus gambling fortune to buy governments in order to fulfill his passion for Zionism. He became one of the single most important private political influences in both the United States and Israel.
Through his political action committees and charities, Adelson focused the huge power of his money on expanding Israel’s borders, squeezing Palestinians into ever smaller ghettos, and ensuring that the Jewish state received almost unlimited American military, financial and political support.
Over recent years, Adelson gave at least $150 million to Donald Trump and the Republican Party. That’s a lot of money for nickel and dime politicians. Adelson also financed a host of political action committees, mostly with tax deductible funds. Some sources even spoke of $11 billion worth of political donations. Those few legislators who did not kowtow to Adelson or the idea of a greater Israel were quickly subjects of his wrath and sharp political attacks. US senators Newt Gingrich and Marco Rubio became major recipient of donations from kingmaker Adelson. However, the most important recipient was Donald Trump.
An important part of Trump’s political funding came from Adelson’s casinos and a coterie of ardently pro-Israel billionaires. Many were linked to Israel’s rightwing Likud Party. In fact, one of Trump’s prime political goals was aiding Israel’s hard expansionist government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Critics accused Trump of being a Trojan Horse for Israel’s far right. The US State Department was gutted by Trump and his hatchet-man Mike Pompeo, allegedly for harboring too many ‘old Mideast’ hands who were insufficiently submissive to Israel’s demands. Other government agencies were similarly purged, including CIA and Voice of America. Media commentators who did not toe the pro-Likud line were consigned to obscurity.
In Israel, Adelson was even more direct. He created a free newspaper, ‘Israel Today,’ to support policies of Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party. Adelson played an important role in crushing Israel’s peace parties that opposed Netanyahu.
After years of lavish spending, Adelson ended up giving marching orders to both Trump and Netanyahu. As a Parthian shaft, the departing Trump muscled the Arab states of the United Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, and Morocco to come out of the closet to recognize Israel and ditch the Palestinians. Orders from Washington could not be ignored by these monarchies and autocracies.
Trump’s other pillar of support was America’s Christian fundamentalists. As author Upton Sinclair wrote before WWII, ‘when fascism comes to America, it will be under the sign of the cross.’ The mob of pro-Trump thugs that stormed the US Congress was seen waving ‘Jesus saves’ banners – but these were quickly deleted from later TV news reports. Still, extreme Christian rightists remain a powerful force in American life and seemingly limitless support for Israel. They are also the key power bloc in the Republican party.
As I wrote three years ago, the Republican Party has become a religious cult. It has nothing at all in common with the old, moderate party of Lincoln or Eisenhower. The new Republicans are found it the southern and Midwest Bible Belt that brought the US Prohibition and racial politics. This reborn Bible belt was anti-intellectual, xenophobic, anti-education and steeped in primitive theology.
Donald Trump was clever enough to gain control of America’s hillbilly right by setting himself up as a quasi-religious Biblical figure. Many of his apparently bizarre actions were political theater designed to play to religious fundamentalists or to the type of primitives who stormed the US Capitol.
In spite of this monstrous political crime, the Republicans remain firmly under Trump’s thumb and almost in power. The next mid-term elections might well bring them back to power. Trump and his rightwing Israeli allies are counting the days.