director of the Arab American Association of New York and the advocacy and civic engagement coordinator for the National Network for Arab American Communities.
opinion editor at the Jewish Daily Forward and author of the book, When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry.
Many analysts say Newt Gingrich’s recent rise in the Republican contest would have been impossible without the backing of one man: multi-billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. Adelson and his wife have donated $10 million to the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, which has run a series of ads attacking Gingrich’s opponent Mitt Romney. Gingrich has openly admitted Adelson’s support came down to a single issue: Israel. Gingrich has adopted the most extremist anti-Palestinian stance of the Republican presidential field, calling the Palestinians themselves an "invented" people. We speak with Gal Beckerman of the Jewish Daily Forward and Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to the issue of money and politics. Over the past two weeks, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary and has surged in the national polls. Many analysts say Gingrich’s rise would not have been possible without the backing of one man: multi-billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. With a net worth of over $20 billion, he is the world’s 16th richest person, according to Forbes.
Ahead of the South Carolina primary, Adelson donated $5 million to the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, which ran a series of ads attacking Gingrich’s opponent Mitt Romney. On Monday, it was revealed his wife, Miriam Adelson, gave another $5 million to the pro-Gingrich super PAC. Under the nation’s campaign finance laws, the Adelsons could give the super PAC an unlimited amount of money in the coming months.
In a recent interview with Ted Koppel on NBC, Newt Gingrich was asked about why the Adelsons would give so much money. Gingrich admitted it came down to a single issue: Israel.
TED KOPPEL: But what do these multi-millionaires expect?
NEWT GINGRICH: They want—they want—they want—
TED KOPPEL: When you give someone five million bucks—
NEWT GINGRICH: They want their candidate to win.
TED KOPPEL: But there has to be a "so what" at the end of that. So, if you win, what does Adelson get out of it?
NEWT GINGRICH: Well, he knows I’m very pro-Israel. And that’s the central value of his life. I mean, he is very worried that Israel is going to not survive.
AMY GOODMAN: Sheldon Adelson is the owner of Israel’s largest daily newspaper, a financial supporter of Birthright Israel, and a close friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson has also supported the Clarion Fund, which produced The Third Jihad film, which we just discussed.
The Washington Post reports Adelson and Gingrich met when Gingrich was House speaker and Adelson was lobbying to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Gingrich raised this very issue at last night’s debate when he was questioned about his past claims that the Palestinians are an "invented" people.
NEWT GINGRICH: It was technically an invention in the late 1970s, and it was clearly—it was clearly so. Prior to that, they were Arabs. Many of them were either Syrian, Lebanese or Egyptian or Jordanian.
There are a couple of simple things here. There were 11 rockets fired into Israel in November. Now imagine, in Duval County, that 11 rockets hit from your neighbor. How many of you would be for a peace process? And how many of you would say, "You know? That looks like an act of war." You have leadership, unequivocally—and Governor Romney is exactly right—the leadership of Hamas says, "Not a single Jew will remain." Well, you’re not having a peace negotiation then. This is war by another form.
My goal for the Palestinian people would be to live in peace, to live in prosperity, to have the dignity of a state, to have freedom. And they can achieve it any morning they are prepared to say, "Israel has a right to exist. We give up the right to return. And we recognize that we’re going to live side by side. Now let’s work together to create mutual prosperity." And you could, in five years, dramatically improve the quality of life of every Palestinian.
But the political leadership would never tolerate that. And that’s why we are in a continuous state of war, where Obama undermines the Israelis. On the first day that I am president, if I do become president, I will sign an executive order directing the State Department to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Newt Gingrich and Sheldon Adelson, we’re joined by Gal Beckerman, who is the opinion editor at the Jewish newspaper, The Forward. He recently wrote an article called "What Sheldon’s Money Buys: Adelson Millions Ensure Gingrich Steers to Far Right on Israel." Still with us, Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York.
Gal, explain what it is, this Adelson-Gingrich relationship, why he supports him.
GAL BECKERMAN: Well, he supports—the relationship is really symbiotic, in a way. It developed, as you said, in the mid-'90s over issues of union busting. Adelson wanted some help; Gingrich was able to offer it. And it developed as time went on. It seems to have helped kind of in Gingrich's evolution in terms of his pro-Israel stance. Wayne Barrett recently reported in The Daily Beast that, you know, if you look at what Gingrich was saying about Palestinians and Israel in 2005, even, as recently as 2005, it was kind of a different line. He was talking about investing in their ancestral lands. He was really speaking a much different language. This is now changed. You won’t hear Gingrich saying anything like that anymore. And it’s not—you know, one can’t draw a direct causal link, you know, find the telephone call in which Adelson said, you know, "I want you to say this." But it’s not hard to imagine that if your political life depends on a man who has very extreme-right views when it comes to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, that you’re going to hear that same language come out of that candidate’s mouth.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Adelson has a determined opposition even to a two-state solution in the Middle East, doesn’t he?
GAL BECKERMAN: He does. I mean, in my column, I quote him from last year speaking to The Jewish Week, saying, "I believe" — and I’m paraphrasing here, but "that a two-state solution is a stepping stone to the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people." So, you know, this is even more further to the right than the current Israeli government is, which is engaged now, whether, you know, successfully or not, in talks in Jordan with the Palestinians. You have a prime minister who, you know, whether he wants a two-state solution to eventually happen, he’s speaking the language of a two-state solution. He’s talking about the need for a Palestinian state. So, you know, Adelson really, in the spectrum of political belief in Israel, really falls, you know, to the right even of the current government.
AMY GOODMAN: AIPAC, where does Sheldon Adelson stand on his views on the American Israeli Political Action Committee?
GAL BECKERMAN: Right, well, here’s another example where you—
AMY GOODMAN: Public Affairs Committee.
GAL BECKERMAN: Right. Here’s another example where you can see that Adelson really kind of is on that right side of the spectrum, because he broke with AIPAC in 2007 over a congressional initiative that AIPAC was backing, and that the Israelis actually were backing, as well, to provide more economic aid to the Palestinians. He didn’t feel that this was a good idea.
AMY GOODMAN: Adelson and super PACs?
GAL BECKERMAN: I mean, the one thing that should be said is that, you know, we can talk about Adelson’s influence, you know, all we want, but there’s nothing illegal about it. I mean, the real problem here is this vehicle that he’s been allowed, through super PACs, to be able to have this kind of outsized influence, which really wasn’t the case before the Citizens United case two years ago.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Linda Sarsour, as we’re talking here about the influence of Sheldon Adelson—we were just discussing how he helped fund the group that produced the jihad film—your reaction?
LINDA SANSOUR: I’m also—I happen to be Palestinian, too. And listening to a couple of debates ago and having my children sit in front of the TV and playing on their laptop and hearing, you know, our potential presidentials talk about the "invented" people and hearing Palestine, and stopping and saying, "What does he mean by we’re invented people?" and having to explain that to, you know, a 12-year-old and 11-year-old, it’s just so disappointing in this country that money is what buys power in this country and buys influence.
And we actually agree. One-state solution, one-state solution over here. One-state solution, for me, is the only way to go. And that’s an equal state for all, for justice for all. So, we can agree on that area, as well. But really, the views that Newt Gingrich is spouting in these debates, he’s making George Bush look like a walk in the park. I mean, it’s getting—I mean, we’re not—we’re supposed to be progressing in the peace process. We’re supposed to be moving forward. And what we are doing, and the GOP is doing, is moving back. So if the American people have any sense, we cannot let this guy go forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Linda, I wanted to get your response to this issue of the "invented" people. You heard it last night at the debate. Last month, Gingrich defended his claim the Palestinians are an invented people. The former speaker of the House made the comment during an interview with the Jewish Channel.
NEWT GINGRICH: Jewish people have the right to have a state, and I believe that the commitments that were made at the time—remember, there were—there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places. And for a variety of political reasons, we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and I think it’s tragic.
AMY GOODMAN: That was presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Linda Sarsour?
LINDA SANSOUR: I mean, he must have been politically asleep for the first 50 years of his life. And he talks about us being invented in the '70s? Like, what is he talking about? I mean, it's just—I mean, for me, when I watch this, it’s just that—it’s like a comedy. It’s like Saturday Night Live. It’s like, where have you been all this time? And for the Palestinian people, we’ve been—I mean, we’ve been talking about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at least for the past 60 years. So, for me, honestly, I just laugh, and I think that, unfortunately, the way that our political system is set up is you talk about issues that are going to get you elected depending on who gives you money. So you talk about immigration because you want Latino votes. You talk about Israel because you want Jewish votes. I mean, it’s all, for me, a scam. And for me, I don’t know about anybody else, but it doesn’t—it doesn’t do anything for me.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Gal, I’d like to ask you about the impact of the Adelson money on the general tenor of the foreign policy debate among the Republican candidates. It almost seems that he has single-handedly been able to shift the entire debate more to the right on a variety of issues.
GAL BECKERMAN: Right. Well, I mean, and this is what I think is the much bigger concern, is that, you know, if you have Gingrich saying the things that he believes Adelson wants him to say, nobody wants to be outflanked to the right, and so everyone is going to kind of move in that direction. And you get kind of this dynamic where it’s kind of like toughness for toughness’s sake, you know, on a range of issues, any time that talk turns to foreign policy, whether it’s Cuba or, you know, when you talk about Afghanistan. Romney was asked twice what he would do with the Taliban, whether he would negotiate with the Taliban, and he said, "No, we’re going to beat them," which, as far as I’m concerned, is what we’ve been trying to do for the last 10 years without much effect. So, you know, he—there is—and then Iran, of course, is the ultimate example, where everyone is trying to just kind of have this kind of belligerent language that doesn’t really kind of offer any alternative solutions, that doesn’t kind of look at all the full implications of some of the things that they’re saying. It’s just kind of, you know, let’s talk as tough as possible. And it pushes people into a corner.
AMY GOODMAN: Go very quickly, the newspaper in Atlanta, where the editor was just forced out.
GAL BECKERMAN: Right, right.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what happened?
GAL BECKERMAN: This was an editor of a very small—about 2,500, I think, was their circulation—newspaper, one of two or three Jewish newspapers in Atlanta, who wrote this incredibly, extraordinarily inflammatory column that said that one of the things on the table, in terms of dealing with Iran, should be a possible assassination of President Obama. And this was kind of roundly condemned by everybody. The guy eventually came out himself, you know, in this kind of half-an-hour tearful confession a few days ago, saying he doesn’t know what he was thinking. And, you know, I think it’s possible to see this as just the production of one crank, you know, who’s—you know, but underneath—underneath it is a real kind of, I think, irrational fear that you see among some people in the Jewish community that Obama and his policies towards Iran is somehow harming Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: Thirty seconds, how did Adelson get his fortune?
GAL BECKERMAN: He is a casino magnate, built a lot of casinos in Vegas and, in the last 15 years, has grown even richer through building the same types of resorts and casinos in China.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us. And that editor, the publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times, named Andrew Adler, said Israel should consider assassinating President Obama, quote, "take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel." We’re going to end it there. Gal Beckerman, thanks so much for being with us, opinion editor at The Forward, author of When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry. And Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York, also with the National Network for Arab American Communities. She was just named a "Champion of Change," honored at the White House, a Palestinian-American activist. Thanks much for both for joining us. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at immigration and the primaries. Stay with us.