Freedom House released its annual report on press freedom throughout the world today at an event sponsored by the Newseum in Washington. But along with the usual and appropriate condemnations of dictatorships and totalitarian states, the group decided to slam the one democracy in the Middle East as well as one of the few states in the region where press freedom actually exists: Israel.
Karin Karleklar, the organization’s project direct for monitoring press freedom, told an audience at the Newseum streamed live over the Internet this morning that Israel’s status was being downgraded from “free” to “partly free.” This is astonishing by itself, but the bizarre nature of this judgment is only made clear when one hears the reasons. Two of the reasons stated by Karleklar—the indictment of a journalist for possessing stolen classified materials and the problems that one television station has had in getting its license renewed—are hardly violations of freedom but do speak to issues that could be misinterpreted as tyrannical if they were discussing a country where there wasn’t a vibrant free press. But the third is so absurd as to call into question not merely the judgment but the impartiality of the entire report.
The report claims that the appearance on the scene of Israel Hayom, a relatively new Israeli newspaper, is a threat to press freedom because it is a success that has hurt the business prospects of its competitors. No, you didn’t misread that sentence. Freedom House is taking the position that the fact that Israel Hayom has claimed an impressive share of the hyper-competitive newspaper market is undermining the freedom of the press. The justification for this ridiculous claim is that Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul and well-known contributor to Republican candidates, has “subsidized” the paper and that its editorial line favors Prime Minister Netanyahu. The paper, which is distributed free of charge, is now the most-read paper in Israel, a state of affairs which Freedom House not unreasonably connects to the demise of Maariv, a longtime mainstay of the Hebrew daily press. But the question readers of this report have to ask is what in the name of Joseph Pulitzer does the ability of Adelson’s paper to succeed where many other print papers are failing have to do with freedom of the press?
Most Americans have been following the story of the suicide of Israel’s “Prisoner X” with some confusion. As more information about the former Australian turned alleged Mossad agent who was imprisoned for some still unclear security violation has come out some of the focus of the controversy — especially outside of Israel — has been about the fact that the case was kept secret by Israel’s system of military censorship. This has led to charges that the censors subvert Israel’s democracy or that press freedom is not existent in the Jewish state.
But the problem with these sorts of accusations is that unlike many of the country’s foreign critics most Israelis — including the press and many on the left who have no love for its current government — understand that the security threats to Israel are real not imagined. The fact that a lively and often obstreperous free press exists in Israel even though it is a nation that remains at war is a testament to the strength of its democratic foundation. Backing this up is Israeli journalist Ben Caspit who writes in Al Monitor to makes an excellent case for the nation’s military censorship system that, he notes, generally does a good job of protecting legitimate secrets while not depriving citizens of their right to know vital facts about the military and the government.
But Caspit does succumb to his own political prejudices when he claims that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and a newspaper owned by one of his supporters of the media is destroying democracy. This slam against Sheldon Adelson’s Israel Hayom is absurd but it is particularly egregious considering that the history of Israeli government interference with the press is not a function of right-wing censorship but the legacy of the left.
The liberal bias of the mainstream media played a not inconsiderable role in helping Barack Obama skate to what turned out to be an easy victory last November. But as his longtime antagonist Benjamin Netanyahu coasts toward his own re-election, one of the interesting sidebars in the story of that vote is the way a largely left-wing media has proved unable to do much damage to the prime minister. The leftist cast of most Israeli news outlets is so widely recognized, few even on the left bother to deny it. As Akiva Eldar, the longtime columnist for Haaretz once told me in an interview, the bias of most Israeli journalists is not in doubt but since the right has won most of the elections in the last 30 years, it didn’t matter. It’s certainly true that the tilt against Netanyahu in the media won’t help the dismal chances of Israel’s left-wing parties. But the willingness of some of the leading outlets to hype the complaints of a former security official about the PM has raised the eyebrows of one of Eldar’s colleagues on the self-styled New York Times of Israel.
Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz’s current lead political columnist, wrote today about the way the Yediot Aharonot newspaper has tried to inflate a filmed interview with former Mossad chief Yuval Diskin in which he blasts Netanyahu into a cause célèbre. That a paper whose own longstanding left-wing bias is as blatant as that of Haaretz would consider this absurd tells you a lot about how off-the-charts the prejudice of the mass market daily Yediot about Netanyahu has become. While the foreign press has picked up this narrative about Netanyahu’s alleged failings, it’s fairly obvious even to Haaretz that there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the story.
Sheldon Adelson sat at the end of a sweeping boardroom table in an office in his Las Vegas hotel, the Venetian. Earlier that week, he had described himself as “basically a social liberal” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. His comments quickly drew criticism from both the left and right; The Huffington Post called him a “low-information billionaire,” and he was blasted by the right-wing anti-immigration activists. But Adelson seemed unfazed.
“I got a call from a friend of mine who went to a Republican thing yesterday,” he told me. “They said, ‘Well Adelson’s got it right. He’s got it right.’ What’s wrong admitting that some of the social issues are those which Republicans should adopt?”
As for the critics, Adelson was dismissive: “What right do they have to criticize me? They don’t know me at all.”
For someone whose name and face were a regular staple of the election coverage, the public does have many misconceptions about Adelson. His liberal social views rarely received media attention during the campaign season, though he’s certainly never hidden them.
“See that paper on the wall?” he asked, gesturing toward a poster with rows of names on it. “That is a list of some of the scientists that we give a lot of money to conduct collaborative medical research, including stem cell research. What’s wrong if I help stem cell research? I’m all in favor. And if somebody wants to have an abortion, let them have an abortion,” he said.
Adelson wouldn’t be the first high-profile Republican to suggest the party should soften (or at least downplay) its position on social issues. But as the seventh richest man in America and the biggest campaign donor in political history, Adelson could have much more influence over the direction of the GOP than any of these other internal critics. According to the Wall Street Journal, he spent over $100 million on the last election, and has no compunction about spending more. “To me, it’s not a lot of money,” he said.
Those hoping that the seemingly endless 2012 presidential campaign would lead to a shorter run-up to the 2016 contest are out of luck. As Politico reports, not only is there no shortage of aspirants for what will be two open nominations but the hopefuls are already making a beeline to major donors hoping to line up support for a race that may be four years away but seems to have already started. According to their story, a gaggle of ambitious Republican governors who attended the Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas last month managed to take time from their busy schedules to meet with casino mogul Sheldon Adelson in hope of winning his heart and the sort of financial support that could make them viable presidential candidates.
Among those lining up to see the philanthropist/mega donor were Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and John Kasich of Ohio. All three appear to be testing the presidential waters. The story also noted that Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, who both fell short in their 2012 runs, are also keeping close to their big donors in hopes of keeping their options open for another try.
It is true that a viable candidacy requires funding, and the ability to raise money — either from a host of small donors or a few big ones — is an essential skill for any would-be president. But anyone thinking that a nod from Adelson or Santorum’s backer Foster Friess or any of the Texas businessmen that backed Perry is tantamount to a key to the presidency wasn’t paying attention last year. Money gives a candidate a chance, and large donations like those that Newt Gingrich received from Adelson a year ago kept him in the race longer than he might otherwise have lasted. But the lesson of 2012 is that no single donor or even group of large donors or their super PACs can win elections by themselves. Which is why the attention given large contributors may be somewhat misleading.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently advanced a curious conspiracy theory about me—a theory that would almost be flattering if it weren’t so absurd.
Olmert charged that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “intervened in the U.S. elections in the name of an American billionaire with a clear interest in the vote.” Without a shred of evidence, Olmert pontificated that the “very same billionaire used Israel’s prime minister to advance a nominee of his own for president.”
Think about what Olmert is claiming. He is not suggesting the typical nonsense that the Likud government used me to influence the American election. No, Olmert’s conspiracy theory is even more outlandish: he’s asserting that Netanyahu—who isn’t exactly known to be a pushover—somehow agreed to be my puppet during the U.S. presidential campaign.
Several months ago, the New York Times editorial column ran a piece headlined “What Sheldon Adelson Wants” (which is sort of like Russia Today running a story on “What the National Endowment for Democracy Wants”). The Times’s answers ranged from money, to ending a Justice Department investigation, to Adelson’s supposed opposition to a two-state solution.
“He is even further to the right than the main pro-Israeli lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee,” the editorial board wrote breathlessly. Today, Adelson finally weighed in with a column for the JNS wire service.
There’s been plenty of speculation about what top GOP donor Sheldon Adelson wants out of his massive campaign contributions to Mitt Romney. While the left sees some sinister financial motivation, that idea has always seemed absurd. Is it possible that Adelson’s business would see some benefit under a Romney administration? Maybe, in some minor ways. But he’s the seventh richest man in America, and he’s 79 years old — how much higher can he really go at this point?
Then there’s the related idea, pushed by the New York Times editorial board, that Adelson is trying to get Romney elected so that he can squash the Obama Justice Department’s investigation into his Macau casino operation. But if Adelson was truly just interested in having that investigation disappear, wouldn’t he be better off giving that $100 million to the Obama campaign instead? Why take the risk on Romney, when he could curry favor with the administration that actually has control over the investigation?
No, Adelson’s motivations are far simpler. He is a conservative ideologue, and he’s working to get Romney elected because he supports his politics. He acknowledged as much in today’s interview with Politico’s Mike Allen:
As I wrote earlier this week, given the depth of his political involvement on behalf of Republican candidates it’s hardly surprising to find that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is in the crosshairs of the liberal media these days. Adelson’s billions are derived from vastly profitable — and entirely legal — gambling enterprises in Las Vegas and Macao, China but there is an ongoing effort to depict him as a shady character with whom politicians should not associate. The investigation about possible bribery of Chinese officials, which the New York Times spread over their front page on Tuesday, is a serious matter but the allegation remains more a matter of assumptions of misbehavior than any proof. But that has not stopped Democratic groups from trying to brand Adelson as toxic or even repeating other outrageous and palpably false charges about him for which some have been forced to apologize. Now the Times has escalated the campaign with an editorial calling on Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to distance themselves from Adelson and, no doubt, not take any of his campaign contributions.
The hypocrisy of the left’s assault on Adelson is so obvious it barely needs to be mentioned. Adelson is not nearly as shady a character as left-wing financier George Soros, whose activities have included international currency manipulation that sent some countries over the edge in the past. No one questioned whether it was wise for John Kerry to accept Soros’s money in 2004 as part of the billionaire’s crusade to defeat George W. Bush. Nor did anyone question his contributions to the Democrats’ successful get out the vote campaign in 2008. The Times did not speculate then whether Soros’s real agenda involved his business interests, as they do now about Adelson. Instead, they took him at his word that his commitment was ideological. The only real difference between the two is that Soros backs left-wing politicians and causes while Adelson has dedicated his financial resources to supporting Israel and conservatives.
Democrats have spent the last few days happily beginning their effort to demonize Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. But yesterday, Ryan’s appearance at a Las Vegas gathering of GOP donors gave the left a chance to tie him to the man they really hate: billionaire philanthropist and political donor Sheldon Adelson. Adelson’s well publicized donations to first Newt Gingrich and now Mitt Romney have enraged liberals who think there’s something shady about a billionaire donating money to promote political causes as long as his name isn’t Soros and the ideas he supports aren’t liberal.
That rather unexceptional meeting between a candidate and his party’s donors was detailed in an article in the New York Times that rightly pointed out that it was likely that Adelson and other leading GOP givers probably wanted a chance to ask some questions about Ryan’s views on foreign policy and his stands on Israel. There’s little doubt that Adelson was probably satisfied with what he heard since although Ryan’s main focus is the economy and the budget, he’s also a strong supporter of the Jewish state. But the chance to link the left’s new favorite Republican demon to their old standby Adelson was irresistible. And as Ben Shapiro reported on Breitbart.com, Democrats were quick to make an issue of the meeting. The Obama campaign’s Julianna Smoot sent out an email blast saying Ryan was “making a pilgrimage” to the country’s sin capital to “kiss the ring” of Adelson. While both Ryan and Adelson are fair game for political criticism, the sort of imagery used in the email is a not too sublet attempt to use religious imagery that would depict the very Catholic Ryan as paying obeisance to a man who is a Jewish piñata for leftist attacks on the pro-Israel community. This is a classic anti-Semitic dog whistle signaling voters that Ryan is in the thrall of the “Israel Lobby.”
Those with wealth have to know media and government scrutiny comes with their money. And if such persons choose to involve themselves in politics, then that scrutiny is bound to be even greater. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire supporter of Jewish philanthropies and Republican political candidates, probably understood this long before he became the subject of so much attention this year. But the focus on Adelson today makes it more clear than ever that the controversial campaign donor’s willingness to put himself in the spotlight means his business dealings are going to be gone over with a fine tooth comb by both the media and federal authorities as they search for something with which to hang him.
Adelson is the subject of a lengthy investigative piece that appears on the front page of today’s New York Times. According to the story, a former “front man” in China for the casino mogul’s Las Vegas Sands Corporation is being investigated about funds that may have been used to bribe foreign officials in connection with the company’s efforts to expand their business there. If true, that would violate U.S. laws that forbid such shenanigans. It’s a messy and complicated tale that has drawn the attention of Chinese authorities, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as the Times and the Wall Street Journal. But it is far from clear that Adelson has violated any law or done anything that any other big business–which chooses to operate in a country where corruption is rife and the rule of law is a hazy concept–hasn’t done. It may well be that anyone whose prosperity is derived from gambling is going to be subjected to such investigations. But the idea that he has mixed “politics and profits” as the Times put it, seems to imply there is something not kosher about him even if no wrongdoing can be proved. That leaves cynical observers wondering whether the outrage about Adelson’s dealings would be quite so acute if he were not a leading backer of conservative and Israeli causes.
The National Jewish Democratic Council may have bit off more than it could chew with its allegations about Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has apologized for making similar charges that the casino mogul profited from prostitution in his Macau property in China. But the NJDC has yet to back off on its attack, and the result is that Adelson has filed a $60 million libel lawsuit against the group.
Optimistic Jewish Democrats may hope the group will be able to raise some money from liberals who hate the billionaire who has contributed record amounts to Republican candidates as well as many Jewish philanthropic causes. But the problem with the NJDC posing as a martyr being harassed by the deep-pocketed conservative is that their behavior has been indefensible. Disagree with Adelson’s stands on the issues and his taste in candidates if you like, but calling someone a pimp without a shred of proof is not the stuff of First Amendment poster children. Proving libel is difficult, but on the face of it, the NJDC is going to be hard-pressed to prove its mudslinging wasn’t knowingly false as well as malicious.
If you listen long enough to liberals complaining about the Citizens United decision, you’d think the country is being sold lock, stock and barrel to wealthy donors to presidential candidates. But the most publicized political contributor in the country isn’t getting much deference for the big bucks he’s throwing in the direction of Mitt Romney. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has been pilloried from coast to coast by liberals who don’t like his willingness to put his money where his mouth is and fund Republicans intent on defeating Barack Obama. Adelson is doing nothing more than exercising his constitutional right to political speech, but even he can’t guarantee his candidate will do as he wishes. As Eli Lake and Dan Ephron report in the Daily Beast, Adelson asked Mitt Romney if he’ll pardon convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and move the U.S. embassy to Israel’s capital in Jerusalem and got little satisfaction.
Romney is rightly staying away from talking about pardoning Pollard. An election campaign pledge on that issue would have been inappropriate as it would have politicized a strong case for clemency that many serious people, including former CIA chief James Woolsey, feel is overdue. As for Jerusalem, while Adelson is dead right in calling out the foolishness of a several-decades-old policy, again, Romney is no fool. By saying he will do so in cooperation with the Israeli government, he is keeping his options open. But the real point here is not whether Adelson’s requests were wrong — they weren’t — but the idea that political donors can call in IOUs from candidates is bunk. While his millions will buy Adelson the ability to make his requests in person and, as his spokesman said, an invitation to the White House Chanukah party — they don’t ensure Romney will give him what he wants.
A few weeks ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee accused top Republican donor Sheldon Adelson of personally approving and profiting off of prostitution at his Macau casinos. It wasn’t the smartest move, since their charge was based on unsubstantiated allegations from a disgruntled employer who’s been suing Adelson for years. The casino mogul’s attorney immediately slapped the DCCC with the threat of a defamation suit, and now the group has backed off and apologized, according to The Hill:
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued an apology to casino mogul and prominent Republican donor Sheldon Adelson on Thursday, after the billionaire threatened to sue the organization over comments insinuating he profited from prostitution at his Chinese resorts.
The party line from Democrats this year has been to deny that President Obama is in any trouble of losing Jewish support to Mitt Romney in November. But the announcement that a group of Jewish liberals are seeking to form a group to counter the Republican Jewish Coalition’s campaign against Obama is proof the president is in trouble.
But these Jewish liberal donors who wish to offset the efforts of Romney donors such as Sheldon Adelson are making a mistake if they think all that is needed is to throw some money at the Jewish market. If the RJC’s “buyer’s remorse” ad campaign has traction it is because Jewish voters know that President Obama is, as veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller wrote yesterday, “not in love with the idea of Israel.” This is not, as one Democrat told Politico, a case of Obama being “swift-boated.” The GOP isn’t making up novel criticisms of the president so much as it is simply highlighting what everyone already knows
Ever since the confrontation between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in May of 2011 about the president’s attempt to dictate that the 1967 lines would be the starting point for future Middle East peace negotiations, speculation about the impact of this on the president’s re-election has been intense. Since then, numerous polls have shown it is highly unlikely that Obama would get anywhere close to the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he received in 2008. Republicans are eager to take advantage of this factor in November, much as they did last year when a special election in New York’s 8th congressional district went to the GOP over this issue. But leave it to the New York Times to focus an article on this almost completely on billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson is the centerpiece of an article on the front page of today’s Times about an ad campaign undertaken by the Republican Jewish Coalition highlighting the “buyer’s remorse” felt by many Jews who voted for the president four years ago but will not support him again because of his stands on Israel and the state of the economy. That the RJC would be running such ads in battleground states is hardly surprising, especially because the question of the Jewish vote being a possibly decisive factor in the outcome this year has been a matter of discussion for months. Not only did I write about this in the March issue of COMMENTARY, but just yesterday, Reuters also devoted a feature to the way Jewish voters could make the difference in Florida. But for the Times, it’s all about Adelson, who, despite being mentioned in the headline (“Mogul’s Latest Foray Courts Jews for the G.O.P.”) and the caption to a photo showing the ads, is just one of several RJC supporters who helped underwrite their production and distribution. Though liberal Jews quoted in the article are in denial about the president’s problems, and the paper would like to make it appear this is merely the function of a plutocrat’s whim, the reason why the ads are resonating is that a significant percentage of Jewish voters have been disillusioned by the president’s attitude toward Israel.
It looks like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is learning a lesson about when to choose battles. For example, when you’re going to lob potentially criminal allegations at the seventh richest person in the United States, make sure you have your facts straight first.
The DCCC recently put out a statement insinuating that billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson “personally approved” of prostitution at his Macau casino, and asked, “What will Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, and House Republicans do with their Chinese prostitution money?”
The statement made it seem like the allegations were confirmed by the Associated Press, when in fact the news organization was just reporting on a lawsuit filed by a fired Adelson employee. Adelson has disputed the charges, and now his attorneys are threatening the DCCC with a defamation suit, according to The Hill:
“We just received and are reviewing Mr. Adelson’s attorney’s letter,” DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in an email. Ferguson did not respond to a follow-up inquiry.
In late June, the DCCC sent out a release alleging that prostitution money tied to Adelson helped fund the campaigns of Reps. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), as well as other GOP incumbents. …
“Immediately retract and apologize for defamatory statements falsely accusing Mr. Adelson of encouraging and profiting from prostitution, maliciously branding Mr. Adelson as a pimp who has given ‘Chinese prostitution money’ to your political opponents,” the letter from Adelson’s attorney, first obtained by the Las Vegas Sun, reads in part. “These false allegations constitute libel per se entitling Mr. Adelson to compensatory and punitive damages.”
I wrote yesterday about the National Jewish Democratic Council’s self-destructive attack on Sheldon Adelson’s “dirty money.” Since then, it appears that some responsible figures have sat down with the NJDC and gently explained why this campaign was a terrible move. The Jewish Democratic group posted a quasi-mea culpa on its website late yesterday, effectively ending its anti-Adelson campaign (h/t JTA):
Regarding our recent campaign surrounding Sheldon Adelson, we don’t believe we engaged in character assassination; we stand by everything we said, which was sourced from current, credible news accounts. Accusations against Mr. Adelson were made not by us, but by others, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Nonetheless, we regret the concern that this campaign has caused. And in the interest of shalom bayit (peace in our home/community), we are going to take down our petition today. Moving forward, we’ll continue to work hard to fight against the unique threat posed by the outsized influence of certain individual megadonors, which rightly concerns most Americans and most American Jews.
The National Jewish Democratic Council has called on Republicans to stop accepting donations from billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, after a former employee claimed Adelson’s casino in Macau encouraged prostitution (a charge Adelson denies). Needless to say, this is one of the most dumbfounding political moves the NJDC has made in awhile.
Adelson is one of the top pro-Israel philanthropists in the country; he’s given $50 million to Israel’s Holocaust museum Yad Vashem, and over $100 million to the Birthright Israel program; he’s also been a major contributor to AIPAC and sat on its executive committee. Does the NJDC recommend that Yad Vashem cut ties with its single largest donor? Does it suggest that Birthright Israel stop accepting his contribution checks? Does it demand that AIPAC quit associating with the billionaire?
Or is the “dirty money” directive simply aimed at Republican politicians?
Even Democrats have noted the NJDC’s double standard.
It is perhaps to be expected that Sen. John McCain would still be whining about the way the Supreme Court’s Citizens United 2010 decision effectively neutered the campaign finance law he co-authored with Wisconsin liberal Democrat Russ Feingold. McCain is still claiming the decision made politics more corrupt, but he is deaf, dumb and blind about the way his legislation restricted free speech, added further complications to an already byzantine system and drove campaign cash further underground. But while there is nothing remarkable about McCain beating his favorite dead horse, his latest comments cross the line between fair comment and slander.
In an interview with the PBS Newshour program, McCain didn’t just assert that Citizens United is aiding corruption but that the contributions made by Mitt Romney’s leading donor may be the product of “foreign” — and therefore by definition illegal — money. The reference to billionaire Sheldon Adelson — whose billions come in part from casinos in Macao — was a cheap shot, especially as it came directly after McCain predicted there would be “scandals” that would come out of Citizens United. McCain knows very well there is nothing illegal or underhanded about Adelson’s money or his willingness to spend it to promote the causes and candidates he supports. The scandal here isn’t the fact that a billionaire is making money overseas and spending it at home on political speech; it is the willingness of the political class to restrict the right of Americans to have a voice in the political system.