Sheldon Adelson Paid a Secret Visit to an Army Base While in Israel

The U.S. billionaire and his wife were flown to a base in the Jordan Valley to see the site of their latest donation

Sheldon Adelson and wife Dr. Miriam Adelson land at an Israeli army base in the Jordan Valley. July 2017
Rita Mendes-Flohr

At the edge of a pretty but scorched hill in the Jordan Valley, not far from the ruins of a small outpost, Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam could be seen descending from a helicopter two weeks ago. The small chopper flew them on a private visit to an army base in the middle of the desert, for a ceremony in honor of their donations to this site.

“A few cars were waiting for them, with soldiers all around, to take them immediately to the base, located on a route that lies west of the range of hills,” recalled a witness to the event. “There were two helicopters, a white one with the two visitors and a black one which arrived afterwards. We couldn’t see who emerged from that one.”

In contrast to Adelson’s secret visit to the Kfir Brigade’s base in the Jordan Valley, his other tours in Israel were extensively covered, partly due to the links between his newspaper, Yisrael Hayom, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The ceremony at Ariel University, held in honor of Adelson’s huge donation toward the building of a new faculty of medicine there, was also the focus of many reports and commentaries.

Given the amounts Adelson has lavished over the years on politicians and ideological groups, there is no reason to be surprised by the fact that he also donated to Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. It was also reasonable that he attended a dedication ceremony for a sports auditorium he helped build. What is surprising is the media silence around the visit of Adelsons to a military base.

The official cornerstone-laying ceremony took place with the army’s permission and according to its regulations regarding donors. “In relevant cases, such ceremonies are held in the presence of the donor or his/her representative. In every case of a donation the Friends association is careful to honor the donor,” says the website of Libi, the IDF’s official fund for soldiers. These regulations allow a connection between donors and military bodies, which are supposed to be disconnected from the influence of those with vested interests, be they financial or political. The IDF receives about 200 million shekels ($56.5 million) a year in donations.

It seems that the ties between the army and civil society or financial interest groups in Israel is so tight that we haven’t stopped to ask what is so right about regulations that permit the owner of the largest and free newspaper in the country, a patron of the prime minister, the owner of a global gambling empire, an American citizen and the Republican party’s biggest donor to build installations for the IDF and visit its bases?

Perhaps the woeful cries of alarm over foreign donations sought by civil society organizations in Israel have simply not reached the ears of the IDF?

The army spokesman responded by saying that “the visit was part of a cornerstone-laying ceremony for a sports facility which was built with donations for the benefit of combatants in the Kfir Brigade.

"The visit was approved and carried out according to customary regulations for the visit of FIDF donors. All donations to the IDF are made out to the Association for the Wellbeing of Soldiers and are not received from individual donors. It should be stressed that the donations by Mr. Adelson were made through the FIDF.”