In the Arena

Sheldon Adelson: All Israel, All the Time

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I recently made a private vow not to use the term Israel Firster again, for two reasons: it’s derogatory (and it was, initially, my vituperative response to being called “anti-Israel” by assorted neoconservative blowhards) and it’s inaccurate — most of those who are, I believe, unduly aggressive about Israel’s national security think that the national security of Israel and the U.S. are identical. But how does one describe Sheldon Adelson, who says — tongue slightly in cheek, it seems — that he could spend $100 million to support Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign — and who also is known to have only one public-policy issue on his agenda: Israel or, perhaps more accurately, a Likudnik view of Israel’s national security priorities?

Adelson compares himself to George Soros, who has spent a fortune supporting a variety of liberal causes and candidates. Fair enough, except that Adelson has only one cause and, in this presidential campaign, one candidate. His obsession is his right and, after the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, his privilege. But it is unseemly and potentially disastrous for the U.S. (and also, I believe, Israel). The effects of Adelson’s money can be seen in Newt Gingrich’s warmongering, as reported today in the New York Times:

And Newt Gingrich said at a stop in California recently that he supported Israel’s right to undertake “an operation designed to dramatically slow down or disrupt the Iranian nuclear system.”

I suspect that a lot of Israel’s recent saber rattling has been part of an orchestrated attempt to increase the pressure on Iran to open the books on its nuclear program — and to the minimal extent that Gingrich’s (and Rick Santorum’s) statements add to that pressure, there is some value to them. But I also suspect that Adelson really thinks Israel — or, better still, the U.S. — should attack Iran, and there is no value in that, especially since many experts believe that the economic sanctions and global opprobrium orchestrated by the Obama Administration may well cause the Supreme Leader to blink soon.

The neoconservative desire to bomb Iran is obnoxious and ill conceived but not unusual in American politics; witless pre-emptive aggression — as opposed to the justified military response to al-Qaeda’s terrorism — has proved generally disastrous since Vietnam. There are hints of a deeper unseemliness here, though. The notion that Obama is anti-Israel, which has been hinted at by all of the Republican presidential candidates except Ron Paul, plays into a subterranean campaign by some in the Jewish community to portray the President as soft on radical Islam (and, in its most shameless form, a secret Muslim radical himself). There is a whiff of soft birtherism here — not that Obama was born elsewhere, but that his worldview isn’t quite American.

There is a certain irony in that. In the past, various ethnic lobbies — the free Chinese, the Irish, various Eastern Europeans — have pushed for U.S. military support of their causes and in some cases, like the arming of Taiwan, have succeeded. American Jews who support our eminently moral but geostrategically inconvenient military alliance with Israel, as I do, are acting no differently. But there is a line between arming the free Chinese for their own self-defense and attacking Beijing pre-emptively to make the world safe for Taiwan. This is a line that we’ve never crossed before. I would suggest that those who want to cross that line now, in the Middle East, don’t have America’s best interests at heart and probably not Israel’s, either.