To their credit, many of the Republican Party’s biggest Jewish donors—including hedge funders Paul Singer and Seth Klarman - refuse to back Donald Trump. Most high profile Jewish conservative commentators — David Brooks, William Kristol, David Frum, Bret Stephens, Dan Senor, Jennifer Rubin, Jonah Goldberg — won’t either. But there’s one mammoth exception: Sheldon Adelson, who not only supports Trump, but has lobbied other Jewish Republicans to do the same and pledged to spend as much as $100 million electing the presumptive GOP nominee.
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On its face, Adelson’s enthusiasm is odd. Trump has violated Adelson’s Likudnik orthodoxy by suggesting that the U.S. be “neutral” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Though Trump’s recent statements have grown more “Pro-Israel.” Adelson’s other obsession is internet gambling, which threatens his casino empire. But here too, Trump isn’t publicly on board. In 2011, he said Internet gambling “has to happen.”
Perhaps Trump has reassured Adelson on these issues privately. But I suspect there’s something else going on. Adelson says he likes the fact that Trump is a fellow businessman. And the resemblances don’t stop there. When Adelson looks at Trump, I bet he sees a version of himself.
Consider the similarities. Trump is shockingly uninformed about public policy. So far this campaign, he’s made clear his unfamiliarity with the terms “nuclear triad” and “Brexit.” Last fall, when radio host Hugh Hewitt asked about Qasem Solomeini, head of Iran’s Quds force, Trump was baffled. When Hewitt prompted him by mentioning “Quds force,” Trump began praising the Kurds. Later, Trump admitted he didn’t know the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas.
Many conservatives find this ignorance alarming. Adelson, on the other hand, can relate. He himself has admitted to not knowing the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims. He’s claimed that Palestinians “call themselves southern Syrians.” And he’s insisted that, “all terrorists are Islamists,” which suggests that he’s unfamiliar with the Irish Republican Army, the Tamil Tigers, the FARC, Timothy McVeigh and the Klu Klux Klan.
Then there’s Trump’s enthusiasm for war crimes. As a candidate, he’s promised to torture detainees even if the military objects (“they’re not going to refuse me”) and pledged to murder the family members of terrorists. But it’s unlikely that bothers Adelson, who has himself proposed that the United States launch an “atomic weapon over a ballistic missile” into the Iranian desert and then, if Iran’s government doesn’t cease its nuclear program, launch a second nuclear strike on Tehran.
Trump and Adelson also share a disdain for the press. Trump has called journalists “scum” and suggested loosening libel laws to make it easier to sue them. Adelson has declared that, “I don’t like journalism,” and repeatedly sued reporters who poked into his business affairs. In 2013, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith noted that Adelson “sued me (and my publisher) while my then-8-year-old daughter Amelia was suffering from brain cancer, which had metastasized to her spine. She was literally fighting for her life. I learned of the impending litigation while at her bedside at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.”
It’s not just the press. Adelson shares Trump’s ambivalence about liberal democracy in general. The New York real estate mogul has said that in Russia “they love what he’s [Vladimir Putin’s] doing, they love what he represents.” And he’s called the Tiananmen Square protests a “riot” that the Chinese government put down with a “tremendous show of strength.” For his part, Adelson has responded to concerns that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank imperils Israeli democracy by announcing, “Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state — so what?” Adelson thinks the Jewish state will do fine without democracy, so long as it builds a “big wall.”
Authoritarians attract authoritarians. Trump is an ignorant bully who disdains the rule of law. So is Adelson. I’m glad that principled Jewish conservatives are condemning the presumptive Republican nominee. While they’re at it, they should condemn his Jewish sidekick too.