Adelson in Israel on a Mission for Charity, Influence

American billionaire Sheldon Adelson yesterday pledged $60 million for the Taglit-birthright israel project, which sponsors trips to Israel for Jewish youths who have never visited the country.

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, announced the donation at an event sponsored by President Shimon Peres at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. Adelson - who last month founded the Hebrew-language newspaper Yisrael Hayom - said that he will transfer half of the sum this year and the remainder in 2008.

In his speech, Adelson also promised to pour more money into the program, saying he intended to ensure that applicants could go to Israel the same year they applied, instead of being put on a waiting list.

The billionaire's contribution has already enabled Taglit to double the number of participants for this year, to 25,000. The cost per participant is estimated at $2,500.

From the President's Residence, Adelson went on to speak at Taglit's "mega-event," the project's annual ceremony in the capital. The American businessman, whose fortune is estimated at $27 billion, told the crowd that growing up in a poor Boston family, he had had to depend on charity from Jewish philanthropists to go to summer camp.

Thus his past compelled him to donate to Jewish youth, he said.

Joined by Republicans

Accompanying Adelson were some 20 congressmen from the Republican Party, of which he is a staunch supporter. He has been organizing delegations of Republican congressmen and senators for the past 15 years. "They all come back Zionists," he said.

An organizer for Taglit told Haaretz that Adelson shares his "clearly hawkish" views with program participants. "He talks with the participants about the dangers that Israel has to deal with and the risks from radical Islam.

"He passed out copies of a documentary on how Islam is spreading in the West."