Forty five years ago, the then Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir, myopically dismissed the notion that the Palestinians are a distinct and recognizable people. As she claimed, “It was not as if there was a Palestinian people in Palestine and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”
Four decades on, incredibly enough, the American billionaire businessman Sheldon Adelson is peddling the same ridiculous, tiresome, self-serving and discredited proposition. As he reportedly declared the other day, “The Palestinians are an invented people.”
In another outrageous claim, Adelson — an ardent opponent of a two-state solution — blithely minimized the importance and value of democracy in Israel. “I don’t think the Bible says anything about democracy,” he said. “So Israel won’t be a democratic state, so what?”
I have very mixed feelings about Adelson, an ideological conservative, a staunch Republican Party supporter and a dedicated philanthropist whose donations help prop up a number of Israeli and Jewish organizations.
Generous to a fault, Adelson has donated immense sums to such groups as Birthright Israel and Yad Vashem. Absent these timely infusions, Birthright Israel may well have been forced to curtail its trips, while Yad Vashem may have found it impossible to expand its educational programs on the Holocaust.
On a personal note, I can attest to Adelson’s generosity. In the summer of 2011, I was invited to join a group of Canadian journalists on a fact-finding tour of Yad Vashem, the first of its kind. The trip was interesting and enlightening, and it enabled me to write a series of stories about Yad Vashem projects. No one forced any story on me.
But in light of Adelson’s most recent comments, I have to wonder whether these rules of engagement are scrupulously observed by all the organizations dependent on his largesse.
As Mark Charendoff, president of the Maimonides Foundation and former president of the Jewish Funders Network, told Forward.com: “The question is whether he seeks to impose (his) views on the not-for-profits he supports, and whether he seeks to determine their educational message.”
This is no idle matter.
Adelson’s ownership of Israel Hayom, a right-wing tabloid distributed free of charge, already gives him a platform to vent his opinions, sway Israeli public opinion and set Israel’s national agenda.
I hope that Adelson is not confusing his role at Israel Hayom with his patronship of Birthright Israel or any other organization he backs financially. It would be scandalous if, by stealth, he took advantage of his position by trying to influence young, impressionable and captive minds. Historically, however, benefactors like Adelson have been known to engage in such nefarious practices.
This issue should be of concern to everyone.
Adelson’s reckless and cavalier musings about the Palestinians and Israeli democracy fall under the heading of demagoguery and should not be given legitimacy just because he has deep pockets.
The man is certainly entitled to his views, noxious as they are, but he has absolutely no right to foist them upon organizations he assists. In this respect, Adelson has a moral responsibility to keep his views strictly to himself.
Sheldon Kirshner, a journalist in Toronto, writes an online journal, Sheldonkirshner.com.