Published on August 21st, 2012 | by Daniel Luban1
What Can We Talk About When We Talk About Sheldon Adelson?
Over at The New Republic, Marc Tracy asks the question “Is it possible to write critically about Sheldon Adelson without being anti-Semitic?” He answers in the affirmative, noting that Adelson’s enormous financial influence on this year’s presidential election cycle — combined with various credible allegations of misconduct, most notably relating to his business dealings in China — make him a legitimate target of scrutiny. Others, like Commentary‘s Jonathan Tobin, predictably argue that criticism of Adelson’s role is inherently anti-Semitic. Tracy notes, aptly, that “in mainstream discourse, Adelson is spoken of as an anti-Semitic caricature less frequently by his critics than by his defenders, who use the stereotype as a shield to protect him from legitimate inquiries.”
While I agree with Tracy’s general point, the way he argues for it is somewhat more problematic.
His first line of defense seems to be that critics of Adelson are on safe ground as long as (perhaps only as long as?) they refrain from mentioning his pro-Israel advocacy:
I pointedly did not mention Adelson’s Israel beliefs—not to avoid offending, but because it is plain that a President Romney would not pardon Jonathan Pollard, not completely abandon the peace process, and—I will bet you any sum—not move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The [New York] Times, too, specifically opted not to go there…
The reference is to a Daily Beast piece from earlier this month reporting that Mitt Romney had so far rebuffed Adelson’s request to publicly call for the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. As far as justifications for neglecting Adelson’s influence on the Israel issue go, this is pretty weak. The fact that Romney is willing to rebuff Adelson’s most extreme requests on Israel — and a pardon for Pollard is such an extreme measure that even some neocons oppose it, since it would be likely to trigger widespread outrage in the US military and intelligence communities — hardly shows that Adelson is failing to pull Romney to the right on Israel-related issues in more mundane and pervasive ways.
More broadly, Adelson has made it clear that Israel is by far his most important preoccupation. The New York Times, asking “what Sheldon Adelson wants,” rightly suggested that the primary driving him to open his checkbook “is clearly his disgust for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” After expressing regret for having served in the US rather than Israeli military, Adelson publicly wished that his young son would grow up to be an IDF sniper because “all we care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel.”
The reason mentioning all this makes people leery is obvious, since Adelson’s words and actions do indeed bring to mind a host of traditionally anti-Semitic allegations. But is the solution that we must simply refuse to talk about the issue that Adelson has made clear is the primary one driving him? That we can call attention to Adelson’s pernicious influence on the Republican party regarding human rights in China but not human rights in Palestine? Adelson’s critics should certainly make sure to avoid lapsing into traditional slurs and innuendos. But if Adelson’s positions on Israel make most Americans deeply uncomfortable, that’s first and foremost his problem.