Billionaire Sheldon Adelson and Republicans Trying to Peel Off Liberal Jews, But It's Not Working

News & Politics

This past weekend, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) held its spring meeting in Las Vegas, the home of one of its biggest funders, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The event brought together a who's who of GOP figures ranging from presidential candidates like Texas Senator Ted Cruz to former president George W. Bush, who made rare remarks critical of Obama policy.

The RJC's mission has long been to draw Jewish voters and donors out of the Democratic Party, where they have been for decades, into the Republican Party. The epicenter of these efforts is to stake out harsh, far-right positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and now the Iranian nuclear deal.

“It is not complicated for Republican politicians to come to the RJC and say we should stand with Israel,” Cruz said at the confab. “Unless you are a blithering idiot that’s what you say…for anyone who doesn’t get that, we have medical treatment.”

But Cruz, despite being a strident hawk and supporter of Israel, has increasing competition in the so-called “Adelson Primary,” the unofficial name given to the competition for financial support from Sheldon Adelson. Politico reports that Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio has “reached out to Adelson more often than any other 2016 candidate,” and that the casino magnate views him as the “future of the Republican Party.”

Which may explain what the RJC is really about: a sort of matchmaking service for Sheldon Adelson and a handful of other hard-right Jewish billionaires who are not representative of the wider Jewish community. The RJC doesn't offer any support for the wider agenda American Jews actually vote for, which tends to be politically progressive. The advocacy organization J Street did exit polling during the 2014 election that found only 8 percent of American Jews were "decisive in how they vote, ranking it tenth on a list of 14 issues behind the economy (44 percent), healthcare (31 percent) and Social Security and Medicare (20 percent).”

The views of American Jews as a whole are much more moderate than the hawkish positions RJC promotes (and those of many Democratic Party officeholders). The J Street poll also found 80 percent of Jewish voters want Israel to suspend settlement construction in the West Bank or outside core settlement blocs; 84 percent supported the outlines of the Iranian nuclear deal being negotiated.

Altogether, these facts paint a picture of an American Jewish community that simply isn't interested in maintaining a hard-right Israel policy. Perhaps that is what motivated Alex Soros, son of billionaire George Soros, to recently start a super PAC called Bend The Arc, which brands itself as explicitly about Jewish values like alleviating poverty and protecting the environment, and never mentions Israel.

Even if the RJC is not able to convince most American Jews to depart from the Democratic Party, it is trying to give new relevancy to the Republican Party's foreign policy hawks—and a payday. According to disclosures, former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer—a board director of the RJC—paid his own consulting firm $60,350 as part of the organization's work; he is listed as spending one hour a week working there. Nice work if you can get it.

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