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Billionaire Netanyahu patron Sheldon Adelson dies aged 87

Casino magnate and Republican megadonor dies following complications with non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Sheldon Adelson (2nd R) and his wife Miriam Adelson (R) applaud for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel as he addresses a joint meeting of the United States Congress on 3 March 2015 in Washington, DC (AFP)

Sheldon Adelson, billionaire patron of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, has died aged 87.

Adelson's company, Las Vegas Sands, on Tuesday announced the death of the casino magnate, saying that he had died from complications related to treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma on Monday evening.

In the statement, his company said Adelson had a gone from being a "teenager selling newspapers on a street corner to becoming one of the world's most successful entrepreneurs" and said that his impact on the integrated resort and hospitality industry would be "everlasting".

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Estimated by Forbes to have a net worth of $35bn, Adelson poured his money into right-wing political causes in Israel and the United States.

He supported both outgoing US President Donald Trump as well as Israel's Prime Minister Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and was a fierce opponent of former President Barack Obama.

Adelson gave nearly $220m to Trump and his fellow Republicans in Congress during the 2020 election cycle.

Former US President George W Bush described Adelson as an "American patriot, a generous benefactor of charitable causes, and a strong supporter of Israel" in a statement on Tuesday.

"Sheldon battled his way out of a tough Boston neighborhood to build a successful enterprise that loyally employed tens of thousands - and entertained millions."

Denying Palestine

Adelson was considered to be a close friend of Prime Minister Netanyahu and in 2007 he created Israel Hayom, a free far-right publication that is considered Israel's most widely-read newspaper.

The publication, ran by his wife Miriam, is so pro-Netanyahu it has earned a well-known nickname: "Bibiton" ("Bibi" is Netanyahu’s nickname, while "iton" is Hebrew for "newspaper"). In 2016, the newpaper formally endorsed the Trump campaign. 

Given Adelson's political views, his level of influence - particularly concerning the Middle East - was worrying. 

Adelson backed some of Trump's most controversial moves, including transfering the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

'The purpose of the existence of Palestinians is to destroy Israel'

-Sheldon Adelson, billionaire

He stood firmly against a two state-solution, as he viewed Palestinians to be an "invented people".

"The purpose of the existence of Palestinians is to destroy Israel," Adelson said in 2014 at the first conference of the Israeli-American Council, a Los Angeles-based pro-Israel group. 

"Palestinian narrative created the Palestinian narrative," he said. 

In 2015 he created and funded the Maccabee Task Force, which pushes for legislation that targets the growing pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divest Sanction (BDS) movement on college campuses.

Established in 2005 by Palestinian civil society, the BDS movement seeks to encourage individuals, nations and organisations to boycott Israel over its consistent violations of international law. A slow-growing initiative, it has seen increased support among university students in recent years, prompting the creation of Adelson's organisation. 

The group also has a grassroots strategy that works by approaching pro-Israel groups on college campuses and offering them cash to do whatever anti-BDS work they deem viable, all without attaching the Maccabee or Adelson name. 

"The deal with our partners was, if these are things you want to do, here’s the deal: you do them, we pay for them, and you don’t have to put our name or logo on it," the organisation’s executive director, David Brog, said in a Time of Israel interview. "You’re doing it. You own it."

Adelson had funneled at least $50m into the initiative and in 2019 announced that the group would be expanding its efforts to six other countries.

Nuking Iran

He also funded an investigation into Linda Sarsour, a former co-chair of the Women’s March movement in the US who has long campaigned in favour of Palestinian rights and the BDS movement. 

Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2018 revealed the Adelson-funded investigation against Sarsour, which it said was carried out by an Israeli firm with ties to the country’s police and military. 

Adelson also firmly supported Trump's move to pull out of the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran. 

During a speech at New York City's Yeshiva University in 2013, Adelson said that the US should drop a nuclear bomb somewhere in the Iranian desert to prevent the country from developing their own nuclear programme. 

"Then," Adelson said, "you say, 'See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development.'"