How can Israel-Obsessed Sheldon Adelson Support Trump?
A little more than a week ago, Sheldon Adelson endorsed Donald Trump for president. Since then he has announced his intention to pour $100 million into Trump’s campaign, has urged fellow Republican donors to follow his lead, and has let it be known that he is arranging for Trump to travel to Israel prior to the GOP convention.
I have been around awhile and not much surprises me, but I admit that I was surprised here. I am not an Adelson fan. I don’t know him, and I don’t agree with him on practically anything, other than his support for Birthright Israel. Still, I thought that he would, in this case, pause for a while before jumping on the Trump bandwagon.
My thinking was that a man whose devotion to Israel is so aggressive and emphatic would resist backing Trump until Trump’s approach to the Middle East had been clarified. And I thought that if support were eventually to be offered, Adelson would acknowledge his concerns about Trump’s Israel positions and lay out his expectations for protecting Israel’s security. Perhaps, I thought, Adelson would even issue an appropriate warning, making clear that in return for his dollars he expected some clear answers on how matters that will determine Israel’s fate will be handled by the candidate. I told myself that even for a man like Adelson, the most partisan of Republicans, there are times when principle will take precedence over party and politics.
Well, I was wrong. None of these things happened. Adelson’s endorsement of Trump in the Washington Post referred to Trump’s “strong executive leadership.” The word “Israel” did not even appear.
There are, of course, a hundred reasons to oppose a Trump candidacy. Trump is a political lowlife: A bully, a braggart, and a bigot. All that anyone really needs to know about Donald Trump can be learned from his role as the leading spokesman of the birther movement — that absurd, tragicomic, anti-Obama campaign with explicit racist undertones. On a certain level, I am perplexed that anyone can support Trump. Still, as reluctant as I am to admit it, I appreciate the power of political partisanship, and as a registered Democrat, I am a partisan myself. In almost every instance, I prefer the Democrat to the Republican.
But even for partisans, there are limits. And while Adelson may not respond to the range of other issues that deeply concern me, I imagined that he would be distressed by the maddening incoherence of the Trump campaign on Israel. Adelson is obsessed with Israel, as am I. He believes, as do I, that the support of Israel by the U.S. is both a moral obligation and a vital American interest.
Surely, then, just as I and other Democratic Jewish activists could not support Jimmy Carter in 1980, Sheldon Adelson, a Republican Jewish activist, should not rush to support Donald Trump in 2016.
But that is exactly what Adelson did. And when he finally addressed the Israel issue, in a letter distributed to Republican Jewish leaders following his formal endorsement, he offered a single sentence, without any details, asserting Trump’s devotion to Israel’s safety.
The reason that Adelson offered no details is that Trump has not said anything that demonstrates a credible commitment to Israel. And if anyone thinks that such matters are merely campaign jousting, without significance in the real world, consider any of the following scenarios: a) Jordan’s government, inundated by Syrian refugees, is toppled by a coalition of ISIS-backed extremists and internal opponents; b) Russian forces in Syria, prodded by Iran, begin providing cover for arms shipments from Syria to Hezbollah bases in Lebanon; c) the Egyptian army’s failed campaign against jihadists in Sinai reignites unrest in Cairo, threatening the heavy-handed rule of General Al-Sissi.
In all of these cases, what would be required is a calm, clear-headed, and tough American president, experienced in foreign affairs and with credibility in the region and among America’s allies. The swaggering impetuosity of Donald Trump would be a disaster, for Israel and America alike. Israel lives in a very dangerous neighborhood, and what she needs more than anything else is a stable, predictable American foreign policy, rooted in a prudent globalism. Trump, who is imperious, constantly self-contradictory, and contemptuous of our allies everywhere, provides not stability but disruption and uncertainty. And this is a disaster for Israel. What Trump offers is a more perilous world and a more vulnerable Jewish state.
Why then does Adelson pass over such matters in almost total silence? I really don’t know. Perhaps, as a member of the billionaire boys’ club that pulls strings in the Republican Party, he enjoys his leadership role too much to give it up. Perhaps, as a certified Obama-hater and Clinton-hater, he has let his personal animosity prevail over good policy and good sense. Perhaps, as a man who made his money in casinos, he feels that his desperate efforts to prevent the legalization of online gambling will be supported by Donald Trump, a casino man himself.
Motives are hard to judge, of course. And we Jews can and will disagree about Israel, as we always have. But Jewish leaders need to be asking: Why is Sheldon Adelson giving Donald Trump a free pass on issues that are vital to Israel’s security and well-being? And more important, why should we be listening to Adelson at all when the pro-Israel community, across the political spectrum, has profound doubts about Trump’s credentials to keep Israel safe? If Adelson believes that Trump is a sincere champion of Israel, then he owes us a compelling and convincing explanation of why that is so. But he hasn’t come even close to doing so, and given Trump’s record and what he represents, there is no reason to believe that he ever will.