Haaretz's 2019 Rich List

Mega-donor Miriam Adelson, Now Israel's Richest Person, Is Beholden to No One

Israeli-born Dr. Adelson, wife of U.S. casino tycoon and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, is a new addition to Israel's rich list this year — jumping straight to first place

Total worth in 2019: $22,000,000,000
Stock market value: $20,800,000,000

Dr. Miriam Adelson, wife of U.S. casino tycoon and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, is the wealthiest person in 2019 Israel. Israeli-born Adelson is a new addition to the rich list this year, jumping straight to first place thanks to a recent transfer of assets from her husband.

Adelson had mostly stayed out of the public eye until recently, with media attention centered on her husband, who is now 85. That has started to change – perhaps due to Sheldon’s age, or perhaps because of his cancer, which has kept him away from his business activities and public appearances for several months.

Miriam Adelson, Israel's wealthiest person.
Doron Flamm

Over the past year, Dr. Adelson, 73, a dual Israeli and American citizen, became Israel’s wealthiest individual by a long stretch. Her personal wealth is now $22 billion, most of it in shares in the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, gifted to her by her husband during the previous year. In May 2018, Adelson also took control of her husband’s freebie newspaper Israel Hayom, considered a mouthpiece for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when she declared herself its publisher. In an unusual move, she penned an opinion piece in favor of Israel’s controversial nation-state law. Her role at the daily gives her significant influence over the everyday lives of Israelis.

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In November 2018, Adelson was granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, by President Donald Trump. The criticism wasn’t long in coming: The Adelsons are known for donating hundreds of millions of dollars to Republican causes, including Trump’s campaign.

Miriam Farbstein was born in Tel Aviv and studied internal medicine at Tel Aviv University. A few years after divorcing her first husband, she moved to the United States, where she specialized in treating drug addictions. Her patients included Sheldon Adelson’s son from his first marriage, who later died of an overdose. She went on to found drug treatment centers in Las Vegas and Tel Aviv. By the time she met Sheldon, whom she married in 1991, he was already extremely well off.

The two became a couple with massive influence over U.S. and Israeli political developments. People who know them personally say Miriam has always been a powerful presence, even if that wasn’t widely known to the public. They credit her for shifting her husband’s political views to the Republican Party; previously he had donated to Democratic candidates.

U.S. President Donald Trump presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to physician Miriam Adelson.
ALEX WONG / AFP

Miriam Adelson is also responsible for the couple’s decision to donate to Israeli causes, including massive ventures such as Birthright; for the broad scope of their political influence in Israel; and for her husband’s decision to found Israel Hayom. She is motivated by ideological causes. Her opinions are right-wing in every respect, nationalist and Zionist, and she believes that the Israeli right must remain in power: From her perspective, it is “saving Israel.” She sees Israel Hayom as a means of preserving that situation; prior to the newspaper’s founding in 2007, the country was ruled by centrist parties. One friend says that Adelson believes that her right-wing views impeded her career as a doctor in Israel in the 1980s.

A close acquaintance says that Israel Hayom was entirely her project. For Miriam Adelson, it was first a matter of ideology, and thereafter of supporting Netanyahu; for her husband Sheldon, it was a matter of first choosing Netanyahu and adopting the ideology afterward, says the friend.

While many well-to-do families with ties to the Netanyahus have a give-and-take relationship with them, it’s not that way with Miriam Adelson. At some point she had a close relationship with Sara Netanyahu, but they later grew apart. Adelson is not beholden to anyone. People who know her say that for her Benjamin Netanyahu is only the means: If he doesn’t “deliver the goods,” the Adelsons will switch their allegiance elsewhere. Which is why Israel Hayom started embracing right-wing politician Naftali Bennett.

Miriam Adelson and her husband, Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, listen to U.S. President Donald Trump address the Republican Jewish Coalition 2019 Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., April 6, 2019.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The relationship between the Adelsons and Netanyahu broke down in the wake of Case 2000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of trying to strike a deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken Israel Hayom in exchange for more positive coverage in Mozes’ newspaper. Sources close to the Adelsons say that the parties are still not speaking. A 2017 expose by Haaretz journalist Uri Blau, revealing that up until 2014 Israel Hayom had lost 700 million shekels ($190 million), also shocked the public.

These developments may have led the Adelsons to oust Israel Hayom’s previous publisher and editor in 2017. They appointed journalist Boaz Bizmuth as editor and some sources say he convinced Adelson herself to take the job as publisher. The Adelsons are still financing the newspaper, although it may be costing them less than in the past.

Miriam Adelson maintains ties with old friends in Israel, and meets them frequently on visits. Despite living in the United States, she still considers herself an Israeli and wants to remain involved in goings-on there. She is sophisticated enough to influence U.S. policy regarding Israel from behind the scenes. OnE example is the Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, although Adelson denies any involvement in that.

With her husband’s declining health and her control over Israel Hayom, it’s likely that Miriam Adelson will continue to be the one to set the couple’s political agenda going forward.