Author: Peter Beinart / Haaretz
Imagine this. Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, Elizabeth Warren and multiple lesser Democratic notables travel halfway across the country to kiss the ring of a Palestinian-American billionaire who has shown himself willing to spend tens of millions of dollars subsidizing presidential campaigns.
The billionaire has some provocative views. Six months earlier, he suggested that if Israel does not end its nuclear weapons program, America should drop an “atomic weapon…in the middle of the [Negev] desert that doesn’t hurt a soul.” If that doesn’t work, America should drop “the next one…in the middle of” Tel Aviv.
The billionaire insists that there is no such thing as the Jewish people. It’s a hoax; the Jews “have fooled the world very successfully.” And he declares that “There isn’t a” Jew “alive who wasn’t raised on a curriculum of hatred and hostility toward the” Palestinians.
Change the words “Democrat” to “Republican,” “Israel” to “Iran” and “Palestinian” to “Jewish,” and that’s exactly what just happened. Leading contenders for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination spent last weekend wooing and feting a billionaire, Sheldon Adelson, whose views – if directed at Jews—would put him in the company of Louis Farrakhan and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s check the record. Adelson has called for nuking the Iranian desert (which supposedly wouldn’t “hurt a soul”) and then nuking Tehran unless Iran abandons its nuclear weapons program. I’m all for Iran abandoning its nuclear weapons program. But how does threatening Tehran with nuclear annihilation make Adelson any different than those Iranians who have threatened to destroy Israel?
Then there’s Adelson’s view that the Palestinians are an “invented people.” Again, flip it around. In 2008, when Tel Aviv University’s Shlomo Sand published a book called “The Invention of the Jewish People,” he was widely called anti-Semitic. When Adelson says the same about Palestinians, he’s a Republican rock star.
This isn’t hawkishness. It’s hate. Hawks acknowledge that there are divisions among Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, but argue that, at this moment in time, the forces of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic militancy have the upper hand. For Adelson, by contrast, there are no distinctions. All Palestinians and all Muslims are detestable killers. It’s just who they are. “There isn’t a Palestinian alive who wasn’t raised on a curriculum of hatred and hostility toward the Jews,” he told theJewish Press in 2011. “They don’t want the Jews or any other religion to be alive,” he said in the same interview. “The Muslims…want to kill 100 percent of the Jews,” he explained last fall. “Not all Islamists are terrorists but all the terrorists are Islamists,” he opined in 2012.
The ignorance is painful. At times, Adelson seems to suggest that Palestinians are a religion. (“They don’t want the Jews or any other religion to be alive.”) His claim that “all the terrorists are Islamists” reveals a lack of familiarity with, among others, Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, the Klu Klux Klan, the Irish Republican Army, the Tamil Tigers, the Basque National Liberation Movement, the FARC, and the Jewish Defense League. Adelson is on record as admitting that “I don’t know the difference between the Shia and the Sunnis.”
This is what American democracy has come to. Because billionaires can now spend unlimited sums on political campaigns, a primitive old man, who knows almost nothing about Palestinians and Muslims except that they are all murderous savages, can summon the leading Republican presidential candidates to his casino and make them grovel for his affections. Although there were several hundred people in the audience last weekend in Las Vegas, the Washington Post reported that Ohio Governor John Kasich “frequently directed his remarks to ‘Sheldon’ in his speech, as if he were having a one-on-one chat.”
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker volunteered that during Hannukah, he lights a menorah at the governor’s mansion. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie urged America to be Israel’s “unquestioning friend.” Then he slipped up by calling the West Bank the “occupied territories” (the same term long used by the United States government), before offering Adelson a heartfelt apology.
Luckily, at times like these, we have Jon Stewart, who suggested that instead of “Occupied Territories,” Adelson would have preferred “Israel-in-waiting” or “Palestinian Terror Emporium.” In watching American Jewish politics today, it’s important to be able to laugh. Otherwise the shame might be too much to bear.