Adelson Refuses to Back Netanyahu as PM Faces Possible Police Call for Indictment

Has the once-warm relationship between the U.S. billionaire and Netanyahu frosted over completely?

Sheldon Adelson, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending an event in Herzliya, October 2016.
\ Ilan Assayag

The once-warm relationship between U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have frosted over completely. In an Israeli radio interview broadcast on Monday, the GOP megadonor declined to say – not once, but twice – he wishes the Israeli leader won’t be indicted over graft suspicions.

In an impromptu interview with an Army Radio reporter, Adelson was asked whether Netanyahu would “come out clean” when several ongoing police investigations are concluded. Adelson said he “doesn’t know anything” about the probes and has “no idea” how they would end.

The reporter then asked if it was Adelson’s wish that Netanyahu would emerge unscathed and escape charges. Adelson chose to evade the question and offered a flip response of “I wish for peace. I wish I could tell my wife what to do, and I wish for peace.”

Pressed once more, Adelson again chose not to wish Netanyahu well, saying only, “I wish for everybody good things.”

This week, after more than a year of investigations, the police are expected to deliver their recommendations to state prosecutors and the attorney general over whether they believe Netanyahu should be indicted in two corruption cases – and Adelson is directly involved in one of them.

In the investigation the police call Case 2000, it is alleged that Netanyahu tried to strike a deal with the publisher of Israel’s biggest paid newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, which would give him better coverage in exchange for weakening its rival, the free daily Israel Hayom. The latter is a staunchly pro-Netanyahu newspaper, published by Adelson, which quickly surpassed Yedioth’s circulation.

Netanyahu was taped telling Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes that if his daily were to ease its hard stance on him, the prime minister would talk to Adelson about Israel Hayom refraining from publishing its weekend edition.

Last June, Adelson and his wife Miriam were questioned about the affair by police in Israel. They reportedly told investigators they were disappointed and angry when they found out about the alleged negotiations and Netanyahu’s taped commitments to weaken their paper.

Adelson was less evasive in the radio interview about his feelings for U.S. President Donald Trump. He praised Trump for making last December’s declaration recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

“No other president in 70 years has done it,” he noted. Asked why the president had made the decision, Adelson said it was because Trump had “promised everybody he would do it.”

Adelson also said he was certain the U.S. Embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would take place “this year or next year.”

Adelson was in Israel on a weekend when many Republicans had traveled to the casino magnate’s Las Vegas hotel in the hope of seeing him.

Politico reported Sunday that Adelson had not attended the annual Republican Jewish Coalition conference because he was had traveled to Israel for the funeral of a close friend.

Sheldon Adelson attending the Republican Jewish Coalition Spring Leadership Meeting at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, in 2014.
REUTERS

But despite Adelson’s absence, Politico said praise for him “overflowed” at the event, reflecting “Adelson’s outsize influence in the party, which is expected only to grow this year as Republicans lean on him to help salvage their control of Congress.”

The report described “desperate” Republicans ahead of the 2018 House and Senate races, hoping to keep up with energized Democratic fundraisers who are determined to seize the opportunity to win back power in Washington.

The article also noted that the downfall of Republican National Committee Finance Chairman Steve Wynn – another casino billionaire – in a sexual harassment scandal had increased the focus on Adelson. Republican strategist Curt Anderson was quoted as calling Wynn’s sidelining “a blow to Republican super PACs and candidates, and it makes donors like Sheldon Adelson even more important.”