In Israel, With Netanyahu at Her Side, Miriam Adelson Places Her Bet for 2024 – if Not Sooner

Increasingly involved in politics and now the richest person in Israel, Sheldon Adelson’s wife has always been keen to support pro-Israel Republicans, and none fit that bill better than Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley, left, and Miriam Adelson.
Jose Luis Magana, AP / Meged Gozani

Usually, the choice of a keynote speaker at a newspaper conference doesn’t mean much. But an upcoming event in Jerusalem offers an intriguing clue about which politician one of the most influential Republican megadonors is eyeing for the post-Trump White House. Even more intriguing: Both the donor, Miriam Adelson, and the candidate — former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley — are conservative women.

With the slogan “Two Nations. One Heart” and an emblem featuring Israeli and American flags fused together, Israel Hayom’s first-ever conference later this month looks more like that of a pro-Israel advocacy group than a news organization.

The official announcement that Haley, 47, would be the star speaker at the newspaper’s June 27 conference noted that “during Ms. Haley’s time as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations between 2017 and 2019, the United States stood proudly with its allies, repeatedly taking a strong and principled stand against the chronic anti-Israel bias in the organization.”

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In a publicity blitz ahead of her appearance, where she will be joined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, Haley has featured repeatedly on the newspaper’s cover.

Last Friday, in an extensive interview with editor-in-chief Boaz Bismuth, Haley said Israel was “like family” to her, reassuring any anxious Israelis that a Mideast deal brokered by the Trump administration would be dedicated, first and foremost, to Israel’s security. She also repeated the personal backstory that has so endeared her to the American-Jewish community: That she stood up for Israel in the UN because, growing up as a Sikh immigrant in the Deep South, she understood what it’s like to be “bullied.”

Israel Hayom was launched by Miriam Adelson’s billionaire husband, Sheldon Adelson, in 2007 and he has sunk tens of millions of dollars into the free newspaper. From its inception, turning a profit always seemed secondary to offering a friendly platform for Netanyahu and serving as a counterweight to the highly critical coverage of his government elsewhere in the Israeli media.

File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley in New York.
Avi Hayun/GPO

Its very existence was a source of controversy from the beginning, climaxing in an attempt by lawmakers in 2014 to initiate legislation to lessen the publication’s power by curtailing free distribution of newspapers — a move that led Netanyahu to disband his governing coalition and hold a new election.

Miriam Adelson, a dual Israeli-American citizen, was officially named as Israel Hayom’s publisher in May 2018 — the first of several events that have seen her step out of her spouse’s shadow over the past year.

Last November, it was Miriam, not Sheldon, who was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Donald Trump. And after several months in the winter and spring during which the couple stayed out of the spotlight as Sheldon Adelson battled cancer — he was not seen in public between December and April — they re-emerged last month, accompanying newly elected Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to Israel where he signed a memorandum of understanding between Florida Atlantic University and Ariel University (the West Bank college where the Adelsons have endowed a medical school).

On June 5, Miriam Adelson again took center stage, picking up an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University.

Also this month, TheMarker revealed that, following a massive transfer of assets from Sheldon Adelson to his wife, Miriam Adelson is now officially Israel’s richest person.

It has long been clear that the couple operates as a team when it comes to politics and philanthropy. But in recent years it has become increasingly public that Miriam Adelson is particularly influential when it comes to decisions regarding support for U.S. politicians — always Republican — who support policies benefiting and protecting Israel.

Haley definitely fits that mold. A rising GOP star after becoming the first female and Indian-American governor of South Carolina in 2010, she became a household name in 2016 when Trump nominated her as U.S. ambassador to the UN.

President Donald Trump talks to Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, at the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2018.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Even before Trump’s election win, it was evident that Haley had caught the Adelsons’ eye. They made an outsize donation of $250,000 to her political advocacy group ahead of the 2016 South Carolina primaries, with local political scientist Scott Huffmon telling Charleston newspaper the Post and Courier: “Adelson is betting on the future of Nikki Haley.”

The Adelsons had good reason. That donation took place as Haley led her state to be the first to enact legislation outlawing public entities from contracting with businesses supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. In January 2016, responding to then-President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, she spoke out against the Iran nuclear deal, vowing that a Republican White House would “make international agreements that were celebrated in Israel and protested in Iran, not the other way around.”

And when she went to the UN the following year, Haley worked hard to make that happen, lobbying strongly for the Trump White House to pull out of the deal. Politico even dubbed Haley Trump’s “Iran whisperer,” outlining her efforts to convince the president to decertify the deal — a position that put her at odds with then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The Adelsons haven’t been alone among American Jews in their admiration and support of Haley. During her time at the UN, her fierce defense of Israel turned her into a rock star in the community — her March 2018 speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference earning her no fewer than 12 standing ovations.

Beyond the Jewish community, she is viewed as one of the few Trump officials to successfully walk the tightrope of staying loyal to the president while escaping the taint of his scandals.

Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt listen as American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Israel and the Palestine territories on February 20, 2018.
Mary Altaffer/AP

Since her surprise resignation from the UN last October (she left her post in January), speculation has swirled regarding Haley’s future political ambitions, particularly any designs on the Oval Office.

That speculation has now reached fever pitch. In February, she launched an advocacy group called Stand for America, and recently revealed the title of her upcoming book: “With All Due Respect: Defending America With Grit and Grace,” about her time as governor and ambassador.

In the clearest indication yet that Haley intends to stay in the political spotlight, she showed up in Boone this week as the star attraction at Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s 2020 campaign fundraiser, the Roast and Ride. It was one of a series of campaign events supporting the reelection bids of Republican senators.

A high-profile speech at an anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List dinner led to a public spat with Whoopi Goldberg, which Haley herself chose to highlight in a tweet.

The fact that the Ernst event was in Iowa — the key early primary state, currently crawling with Democratic presidential hopefuls — heightened speculation regarding Haley’s ambitions, notwithstanding her insistence that she has not made a decision and is focused on helping Trump seek reelection.

In an interview with Charleston’s Post and Courier, political scientist Larry Sabato said that with her advocacy group, book and the current round of speeches, Haley appeared to be systematically “going down the checklist” of a 2024 presidential hopeful.

But will she have to wait till 2024? Some have hinted that she may be hedging her bets in case an earlier opportunity presents itself. Others have gone as far as to suggest — or even recommend — that Trump consider replacing Vice President Mike Pence with the more popular Haley in a strategy to boost his reelection odds for next year.

“News of a Trump-Haley ticket would be a master stroke that would upend the 2020 election and could send Democrats into a complete tailspin,” wrote Arick Wierson on CNN. “In one move, Trump would make history by selecting a woman of color with a deep political resumé and foreign policy gravitas — making it the most diverse ticket in the history of the GOP.”

Such a move would set Haley up for a future White House bid, no matter the outcome. If the ticket lost, he wrote, she would still “immediately be cast as the GOP front-runner in 2024. She would walk away battle-tested and well-armed with coveted GOP donor lists. If she and Trump were to win, she would become the highest-ranking woman ever in federal government — itself a historic feat.”

Others have suggested that Haley could be setting herself up for a different kind of “what-if” scenario in which Trump’s 2020 reelection bid is somehow derailed — whether by impeachment or another scandal-related catastrophe — either as a potential running mate for Pence or as his challenger.

Haley, wrote conservative commentator Rick Moran, is “playing the long game and looking to 2024. But they are also not limiting their options for 2020. If in the very unlikely event Donald Trump would not be a candidate when the primaries kick off next year, Haley will, at least, have something of a head start on many of her potential rivals.”

Being publicly feted by a megadonor like Miriam Adelson — herself a powerful woman on the rise — would surely be an advantageous part of that.