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Is Sheldon Adelson behind Trump's decision on Jerusalem?

The Jewish-American casino mogul, also a major supporter of Prime Minister Netanyahu, has reportedly grown impatient with Trump’s delays to follow through on his campaign promise to move the American embassy.

By Eli Clifton

Casino mogul and Trump mega-donor Sheldon Adelson with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, June 28, 2017. (Ben Dori/Flash90)

Casino mogul and Trump mega-donor Sheldon Adelson with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, June 28, 2017. (Ben Dori/Flash90)

President Donald Trump is expected to announce U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday, and possibly his intention to move the U.S. embassy to the city from Tel Aviv. The move is a step toward fulfilling his campaign promise, during a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

It’s still uncertain if Trump will go through with this plan, but the pressure on Trump goes deeper than a promise to voters. His biggest campaign contributor, billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, is showing growing impatience with Trump’s slowness in moving the embassy, which would be a provocation to Palestinians who claim Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. For this reason, past presidents have refused to move the embassy on grounds that it would upset potential talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

Before Trump was even sworn in as president, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, showed a remarkable willingness to follow directions from Israel’s far-right prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The transition team appears to have worked at the request of Netanyahu to defeat a UN resolution criticizing Israel’s ongoing settlement construction. Reporting on Friday advanced the story, revealing that Kushner told former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn to call members of the Security Council in an effort to stop the vote, a potential violation of the Logan Act, which criminalizes negotiations by unauthorized persons with foreign governments having a dispute with the U.S.

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When the Trump White House hasn’t been quick enough to back Netanyahu or Adelson’s proposals, Adelson, who was reportedly in close contact with Kushner during the campaign, has been quick to express his displeasure.

Adelson, who once accused Palestinians of existing “to destroy Israel,” was reportedly “furious” with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in May for suggesting in a Meet The Press interview that moving the embassy should be contingent on the peace process. Axios reported:

[S]ources say the Las Vegas billionaire doesn’t buy the argument that the embassy move should be contingent on the peace process. He has told Trump that Palestinians are impossible negotiating partners and make demands that Israel can never meet.

Adelson and his wife Miriam spent more than $80 million on Republicans in 2016, and he gave $5 million to Trump’s inauguration.

Adelson and his wife Miriam also contributed $35 million to help elect Trump.

The Las Vegas Review Journal, which is owned by Adelson, wrote in October, “The Adelsons reportedly have been disappointed in Trump’s failure to keep a campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem on his first day in office.”

And before the mega-donor got on the Trump bandwagon, candidate Trump was outspoken about Adelson’s intentions in putting his money behind candidates. He infamously taunted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who in October 2015 was a frontrunner to secure Adelson’s backing, tweeting:

As Lobelog has documented, Trump dramatically changed his message on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular, saying that he would move the embassy to Jerusalem and wouldn’t call for a freeze on the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank, as he closed in on the nomination and sought to secure Adelson’s support for his general election campaign.

Unconditional support for Israel is Adelson’s “central value,” according to Newt Gingrich in 2012, when Adelson was funding his presidential campaign’s Super PAC.

That statement is worth revisiting now as Trump weighs a policy announcement on Jerusalem where his most generous campaign supporter is pushing for a change in U.S. policy that threatens to undermine the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and seriously throw into question the viability of a two-state-solution.

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and U.S. foreign policy. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service. A version of this post first appeared at LobeLog. Read it here.

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    1. Ben

      All the right wingers say they don’t want NGOs funded by foreign money but have no problem with the largest NGO of them all: Israel Hayom! The Bibiton is the Prime Minister’s personal propaganda organ! Funded by massive amounts of foreign money!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kibana

      All the right wingers say they don’t want political NGOs funded by foreign governments that use those NGOs to pursue their own policy objectives that might be in their own interests but doubtfully in those of Israel. For example many of the NGOs are funded by governments that are currently making every effort to try to prevent American recognition of the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. One can expect that their proxy NGOs will take a similar position and to parrot the talking points of their paymasters within Israeli politics. Why such foreign interference should be allowed in Israeli politics is entirely beyond me.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        So, in other words, parroting right wing “paymasters” within Israeli politics is A-OK, but parroting left wing “paymasters*” within Israeli politics is very bad, and cannot be “allowed.” That is, within this so-called “democracy” that is Israeli politics. So you say. Hmmmmmm. So, in this so-called “democracy,” whether you can accept foreign money depends on your political position within Israeli politics. Got it.

        *Regarding “paymasters”: There’s a tried and true Israeli right wing, anti-Semitic meme about Jews’ slavishness to money floating around in there, in your deployment of that word. Harkens right back to that Herr Sturmer video put out by the Yesha Council.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kibana

          Foreign countries have legitimate means of influencing Israeli policy through diplomatic action. Paying local proxies to act on their behalf while pretending to be domestic actors is illegitimate foreign interference in domestic politics. The difference between working at the embassy or working in a different office is inconsequential if your salary comes from foreign governments. There are rules that should govern the actions of such foreign agents.

          The employees of the FGOs collect a paycheck from foreign governments via proxy. The foreign governments are the paymasters. Statement of fact.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Then you simply have to object to Israel Hayom, funded massively by Trump Proxy/Trump paymaster Shel Adelson. If you don’t, and by every indication you do not, then that makes you a hypocrite cynically utilizing a seemingly principled argument but with the real underlying motive of selectively shutting down free speech that is not right wing speech. Statement of fact.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Shelly

      you couldn’t have chosen a better photograph of Adelson’s “comb-over” ! Bravo!

      Reply to Comment