In the worlds of philanthropic and political giving, Sheldon Adelson was a generational figure. He was a man of extraordinary wealth who invested heavily in causes in which he believed, and he never faltered under the scrutiny or criticism of some of his choices. Quite simply, the man described broadly as “the casino magnate” put his money where his mouth was, and made a difference.
When he died last week at age 87, the causes Adelson was best known for — the presidency of Donald Trump, the Republican Party and the Israel of Benjamin Netanyahu — were all at a delicate inflection point.
With a reported net worth of $35 billion — a fortune built on an empire of casinos and resort hotels — Adelson was a major force in the Republican Party, having supported prominent Republicans like President George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, and was the largest single backer of the Trump campaign in 2016, and again in 2020. “Few have wielded so much influence inside the Republican Party without having run for office,” Time magazine wrote last week. “Adelson proved his ability to bankroll candidates, campaigns and causes of his liking.”
Adelson’s influence — and his access to the centers of power — gave him a voice in his other great cause, the State of Israel, and particularly the Greater Israel vision of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He was a major backer of Netanyahu and his Likud Party, bankrolled the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom, and was the most significant funder of the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America, among others. He was also seen as one of the driving forces behind some of Trump’s pro-Israel policies, including the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognition of the Golan Heights and the U.S. exit from the Iran nuclear deal.
Adelson was also a major supporter of the Jewish identity-building phenomenon Taglit-Birthright Israel — the program responsible for more than 600,000 young Jews visiting Israel over the past two decades — along with Yad Vashem, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli-American Council, and active in AIPAC, until it recommended flexibility on the Palestinians, which Adelson opposed.
Adelson was joined in his philanthropy by his wife, Miriam, a physician, who is expected to carry on his support of numerous Israeli educational, social and political programs and a wide variety of charitable organizations and programs in the United States. And while Adelson was best known for his political activity, his Adelson Family Foundation’s involvement in programs promoting education and health care could be among his most lasting legacy.
One doesn’t have to agree with everything that Adelson did or supported in order to appreciate the magnitude of his impact. Adelson’s example of commitment and activism, and the good that has come from so many of the causes he supported, reminds us of the difference each of us can make, particularly in this time of turmoil and uncertainty.
May his memory be a blessing.