Gingrich and Adelson Forge Alliance

Front of the Pack: Newt Gingrich is surging to the head of the Republican field. He doesn’t boast a large number of Jewish supporters, but has some big names in his corner.

GOP Frontrunner Boasts Israel Support and Netanyahu Ties


In the battle for the Republican pro-Israel vote, Newt Gingrich lacks Mitt  Romney’s broad base of prominent Jewish donors. But he has something potentially  more powerful: the support of one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s most significant  American backers, and a relationship with the Israeli prime minister himself  that stretches back decades.

Billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, one of the wealthiest men in the  world and a major donor to Jewish and conservative causes, is widely known as a  Netanyahu stalwart. Less well known are his equally close ties to Gingrich, to  whom he has been a major giver in recent years.

BREAKING NEWS: Read the Forward’s coverage of Gingrich’s  vow to support Israel more strongly

Adelson’s faith in Gingrich hasn’t been particularly contagious. High-profile  Jewish supporters of Gingrich remain tough to find, even as Gingrich has  rocketed into the GOP lead in national polling. Still, the former House  speaker’s ties to Adelson, his relationship with Netanyahu and a foreign policy  team packed with neoconservatives leave him well situated in the competition for  pro-Israel voters.

Neither a spokesman for Adelson nor for the Gingrich campaign responded to  repeated requests for comment for this story. But the alliance of Adelson and  Gingrich is famous in Jewish Republican circles.

“They have been tremendous fans and supporters of Newt from day one,” Fred  Zeidman, a Texas oil executive and prominent Republican Jewish supporter of  Romney, said of Adelson and his wife, Miriam.

Sheldon Adelson
Adelson, who ranked eighth in Forbes’s 2011 list of the richest Americans, is  chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns casinos in Las Vegas  and Macau, China. He has been a major funder of Taglit-Birthright Israel, which  sends young Diaspora Jews on free trips to Israel, and has been among the most  significant American supporters of Netanyahu. In 2007 he launched a free  right-of-center newspaper in Israel called Israel Hayom.

At the same time, Adelson is among the largest political donors in the United  States. Adelson and his wife rank second among individual contributors to  federal candidates, parties and political action committees in the current  election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Adelson has  given particularly heavily to Gingrich-associated organizations. Between 2006  and 2010 he donated $7 million to American Solutions for Winning the Future, one  of Gingrich’s political groups, according to a database maintained by the Center  for Responsive Politics.

American Solutions shut down in July. Around the same time, Gingrich’s  campaign nearly came to a halt as staff members in key states resigned en masse.  That same month, Tablet magazine suggested that Adelson had become less than  full-throated in his support of Gingrich’s presidential run.

Six months later, Gingrich still lags far behind Romney in terms of  fundraising. But with the successive polling collapses of Rick Perry and Herman  Cain, Gingrich has surged to the top among conservatives seeking an alternative  to Romney, who is perceived as a moderate. He now leads the GOP polls nationwide  and in Iowa, which will hold caucuses January 3.

In early August, according to federal election filings, Adelson and his wife  each donated to the Gingrich campaign $2,500, the federally mandated maximum for  individual contributions. Figures on donations to a new Gingrich super PAC,  which can raise unlimited amounts from individuals, have yet to be made  public.

Adelson, who announced a new $5 million gift to Birthright in late November,  has made no secret of his support for Gingrich. At a dinner in mid-November, as  Gingrich’s candidacy was beginning to surge, Zeidman asked Adelson if he was  concerned about Gingrich’s ability to defeat Obama. Conventional wisdom among  political pros on both sides of the aisle says that Romney could be a tougher  opponent for Obama because he might draw more support from middle-of-the-road  independent voters.

Adelson expressed no reservations. “He just is a firm believer,” Zeidman  said.

After the New York Jewish Week ran a story in May questioning Gingrich’s  appeal for Jewish Republicans, Adelson called the Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt  to complain. Rosenblatt described the testy exchange in a blog post. Alleging  that the paper’s story had been unfair, Adelson told Rosenblatt, “There is not a  better advocate for Israel” than Gingrich.

Gingrich also boasts a longstanding relationship with the Israeli prime  minister. Ties between Gingrich and Netanyahu date back to the mid 1990s, when  both shared a goal of countering a drive by then-president Bill Clinton to  advance the peace process. Netanyahu, as leader of the opposition, maintained  close relations with Gingrich and the Republican leadership.

“At the time, Bibi used him [Gingrich] to pressure the president when it came  to issues relating to the peace process,” recalled Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s  ambassador to Washington from 1993 to 1996.

Rabinovich, who described Gingrich as “very pro-Israel,” said that at times,  the Israeli Embassy staff would be busy “doing damage control” when Gingrich and  several other Republican lawmakers attempted to pass legislation that would  block aid to the newly formed Palestinian Authority or prevent the United States  from posting American monitors in the Golan Heights as part of a possible peace  accord with Syria.

Retired ambassador Yoram Ettinger, a former Israeli congressional liaison in  Washington known for his close ties with Netanyahu, said he could not think of  any other lawmaker as knowledgeable about Israel as Gingrich.

During his first 100 days as Speaker of the House, Gingrich refused to meet  with any world leader or politician not directly related to the agenda in his “Contract With America.” There was only one exception, Ettinger said. It was  Benjamin Netanyahu.

Beyond his relationship with Netanyahu, Gingrich himself has carved out a set  of hard-line positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on Iran. In an  address to the Republican Jewish Committee in June, Gingrich called for the  United States to end talks with the Palestinian Authority and for the  dismantling of the United Nations refugee camps that currently hold 1.4 million  Palestinian refugees. Gingrich also vowed to move the American Embassy to  Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

On December 6, following statements by the American ambassador to Belgium and  Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that Obama opponents portrayed as betraying a  tendency to heap unfair blame on Israel, Gingrich excoriated the president. “Barack Obama must tell the American people today whether he condemns or  condones the deeply wrong statements by his secretary of defense and ambassador  to Belgium,” Gingrich said in a statement. “We have the right to know whether  Secretary Panetta’s harsh criticism of Israel is merely his own personal opinion  or a reflection of the policy of his commander in chief.”

Asked about Gingrich’s criticism, a Pentagon spokesman suggested that  Gingrich “read [Panetta’s speech] again and…read it closely….The Secretary said  there’s an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.”

Gingrich’s foreign policy team, announced in late November, may also  billboard an attempt to appeal to Jews. It includes Middle East hawks like  onetime Dick Cheney adviser David Wurmser and Iran expert Ilan Berman, editor of  a journal published by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a  right-wing Israel-focused think tank.

Gingrich hasn’t cornered the market on right-wing, pro-Israel supporters.  Philip Rosen, former national chairman of American Friends of Likud, hosted a  $10,000-per-head fundraiser for Romney in September. And Romney’s foreign policy  team includes such neoconservative stalwarts as former defense policy advisory  board member Eliot Cohen and Dan Senor, former spokesman for the Coalition  Provisional Authority in Iraq.

Knowledgeable Jewish Republicans could name no other major Jewish Gingrich  supporters besides Adelson. A review of the list of donors who had made the  maximum individual donation to Gingrich as of December, a few hundred compared  with the thousands who have maxed out their giving to Romney, revealed  relatively few prominent Jews.

Kenneth S. Abramowitz, a general partner at the venture capital firm  NGN-Capital and current national chairman of American Friends of Likud, has  given the maximum allowable amount to Gingrich’s campaign. But he has also given  the maximum allowable amounts to the Romney and Perry campaigns.

“The fact that there’s vastly more prominent Republican Jews who have maxed  out and are actively raising money for Mitt says something,” said Lee Cowen, a  political consultant and Romney supporter. “There’s a greater number that view  Mitt as the better, well-rounded [candidate], but that he’s also more  electable.”

Cowen questioned how much of an impact Adelson’s support for Gingrich could  have.

“Mr. Adelson is very influential in the community, but he and his wife are  two individuals and they’re subject to the same individual caps that everybody  else is,” Cowen said, referring to the limits on individual donations to  candidate’s campaign committees. Individuals can give unlimited amounts to  independent super PACs.

“Gingrich is catching fire a little late,” Cowen continued. “People may have  already committed [to other candidates], both in terms of support and  dollars.”

In fact, Gingrich’s late surge may count against him in his effort to attract  major Jewish supporters.

“I love Newt, but I committed to Mitt a year ago,” Zeidman said. He added, “If I had any qualms at all about [Romney’s] sincerity with respect to support  for Israel, I wouldn’t have signed up in the first place.”

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