Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate, was in the news last week. Adelson, a billionaire who is the largest donor to Birthright Israel and a prominent contributor to other Jewish causes, reportedly contributed $5 million to Winning Our Future, the pro-Newt Gingrich “super PAC.”
The super PAC, a new breed of political action committee, is also known as an “independent expenditure-only committee.” While individuals are limited to giving $5,000 to a candidate for elective office, no such limits apply to donations to super PACs, which can campaign on behalf of a candidate, but not coordinate directly with the candidate’s election campaign. In 2012, national politics is awash in super PAC cash, after the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the “Citizens United” case, which held that corporations and unions could contribute unlimited amounts to these independent PACs. Individuals of great wealth also are free to contribute mightily to super PACs.
In this new political landscape, a billionaire like Sheldon Adelson has an outsize influence on the electoral process. You and I can vote, but most of us don’t have millions of dollars to subsidize the purchase of TV air time to tilt an election in favor of one candidate or another.
Why is Adelson handing over $5 million to help his old pal Newt?
“He knows I’m very pro-Israel,” Gingrich told Ted Koppel Monday night on Rock Center, the NBC news show. “And that’s the central value of his life. I mean, he is very worried that Israel is not going to survive.”
Ahead of the South Carolina GOP primary, which takes place on Saturday, Gingrich partisans appealed to Adelson to help derail the surging candidacy of Mitt Romney. The New York Times reported last week that Adelson’s cash helped purchase “more than $3.4 million in advertising time in South Carolina, a huge sum in a state where the airwaves come cheap.” The pro-Gingrich super PAC is airing portions of a documentary critical of Romney’s leadership of Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded.
After strong showings in the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, Romney is set to capture the Republican nomination for president this year — unless he is upended in South Carolina this weekend. Adelson pins his hopes for Israel’s survival on Gingrich, according to the candidate’s own understanding of the matter.
(If you want to know more about Adelson, and his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you can read Marcia Friedman’s interview with the Jewish billionaire on Page 3 of this week’s print edition.)
I have written over the past half dozen years about the Republicans’ attempts to pry Jews away from the Democratic Party column, by emphasizing the GOP’s unwavering support for Israel. However, in this election cycle, there are some cracks in the pro-Israel Republican faÃ§ade — notably, in the isolationist foreign policy of Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who wants to end foreign aid across the board, including the large annual military aid outlay to Israel. Paul’s ultra-libertarian ideology is anathema to many mainstream Republicans. The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), for example, did not invite Paul to speak at its candidates forum in December.
Matthew Brooks, RJC executive director, said that his group “rejects [Paul’s] misguided and extreme views,” according to the Washington Jewish Week.
Brooks added that Paul is “just so far outside of the mainstream of the Republican Party and this organization.” Inviting Paul to attend the RJC forum, said Brooks, would be “like inviting Barack Obama to speak.”
Amidst the Republican candidates’ “mainstream” views on Israel, however, some curious opinions have been expressed.
Gingrich, for example, created a stir with his comment, in an interview with the Jewish Channel, that the Palestinians are an “invented” people. Here’s his comment with more context: “Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. We have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab people, and they had the chance to go many places.”
“For a variety of political reasons,” Gingrich added, “we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and I think it’s tragic.”
As you would expect, Gingrich’s remarks were derided by a varied assortment of commentators; some of his fellow Republican candidates suggested that a presidential contender should display more tact in commenting on a critical foreign policy area.
Even Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration who is known for his hawkish foreign policy positions, gainsaid Gingrich’s view of the Palestinians, in remarks to the Washington Post: “There was no Jordan or Syria or Iraq, either, so perhaps he would say they are all invented people as well and also have no right to statehood. Whatever was true then, Palestinian nationalism has grown since 1948, and whether we like it or not, it exists.”
Candidate Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, also weighed in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict recently. He expressed the view that the West Bank is part of Israel, just like Texas and New Mexico are part of the United States.
Of course, Santorum’s opinion about ownership of the West Bank contradicts Israel’s view of the situation, as well as the international position that the Palestinian territories, which were conquered by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, are not part of Israel proper. Israel has annexed a large swath of Jerusalem, whose Arab residents hold cards entitling them to Israeli social services, but not Israeli citizenship. That is not the case for Palestinians in the West Bank, which Santorum, in response to a questioner in Iowa, seems to think is “Israeli land… legitimately Israeli country,” upon which Israelis “have a right to build things based upon their ownership of that land.”
In an exchange videotaped by CNN, Santorum holds that the law of conquest — that Israel seized territory from Jordanian control in 1967 — means that the West Bank now belongs to Israel. “Should we give Texas back to Mexico?” Santorum rhetorically asked his questioner, in an attempt to argue that Israel is entitled to the spoils of war. Gingrich amended his comments, and said that Israel and the Palestinians, invented or not, should negotiate a two-state solution to the long-running conflict. Based on his comments, I don’t know if Santorum thinks that there’s anything to negotiate.
Perhaps Gingrich and Santorum are sincere in their views about Israel, and the ostensibly fictitious Palestinian nation. Or maybe they are pandering for Jewish votes, by casting Obama as the nemesis of Israel.
In fact, Israeli military leaders laud the Obama administration for its close security cooperation with the Jewish state. And if the Republicans keep up this drumbeat of anti-Obama calumnies, about the president being bad for Israel — “throwing Israel under the bus,” in the words of Mitt Romney — the Democrats can mine a rich lode of factual material to rebut their position.
In the end, it’s unfortunate that Israel is being gamed for partisan political advantage; however, that’s how the Republicans roll.
— Mordecai Specktor / email@example.com
(American Jewish World, 1.20.12)