by Eli Clifton
Media coverage of Israel’s decision to deny entry to Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has entirely focused on two narratives. Either Trump goaded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into denying entry for two of Trump’s most vocal critics in Congress–“Trump is doubling down on a strategy aimed at dividing the Democratic Party and pushing some Jewish voters into the arms of Republicans,” said The New York Times–or Netanyahu made the decision himself, according to Israeli government sources cited by Jewish Insider, perhaps even requesting the tweet Trump made urging Israeli authorities not to allow Tlaib and Omar to enter Israel.
Indeed, both of these explanations seem equally plausible, but there’s another, third, explanation that media coverage has completely overlooked. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, Trump and the GOP’s biggest donors, have generously funded a number of the groups that have spent months publishing smears and demonstrable falsehoods about Tlaib and Omar since their swearing in as freshmen members of Congress in January.
And the Adelsons have shown a remarkable track record of getting what they want from the Trump administration on matters related to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
In March 2019, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s World Values Network published a full page Washington Post ad claiming that a series of Omar’s statements were examples of “historic anti-Semitism.” The ad conflated Israel and Judaism, removed all context from Omar’s statements and, at the top of the page, appeared to suggest that Omar said “blah, blah… the Jews control the world with their money… blah, blah…” a statement she had never made.
The Adelsons provided $750,000 to World Values in the 2017 tax year (the last year with publicly available disclosures from the Adelsons’ foundation and World Values), nearly forty-percent of Boteach’s $1,961,789 2017 haul.
The list of groups that applauded Israel’s decision to ban two U.S. members of Congress and that received large portions of their funding from Adelson doesn’t end there.
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) issued a statement last week saying, “The Zionist Organization of America strongly supports Israel’s decision to refuse entry of Israelophobic Jew-haters Rep Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar into Israel.” And that’s after a years worth of ZOA statements and blog posts with headlines like, “Rep. Tlaib’s Despicable Holocaust Comments and Other Actions Show Tlaib Must Be Thrown Out of Congress,” “Rashida Tlaib’s Anti-Israel Record is Just the Tip of the Iceberg –– Her Closest Associates Include Terrorists, Anti-Semites & Conspiracy Theorists,” “ZOA Condemns Newly-Elected Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) For Wrapping Herself in P.A. Flag, Lies About Israel,“ “Remove Anti-Semite Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from Committee Assignments & Vote on Rep. Zeldin’s Antisemitism Bill,” and “ZOA Exposé: Antisemitic Rep. Omar (D-MN) Funded by Israel-hating BDS Leaders and PACs-Remove Her From Committees!”
ZOA President Mort Klein took the smears to a new height on August 16th, attempting to cast doubt on whether Tlaib’s 90 year old grandmother, Muftiyah Tlaib, whom Tlaib had wanted to visit in the West Bank, existed at all. Klein tweeted: “No ones ever seen antisemitic Israelophobic Tlaibs Grandma. I wonder if she’s really still around or is Tlaib using her.”
(A video interview with Muftiyah Tlaib can be viewed here.)
The Adelsons’ foundation contributed $1 million, over twenty-percent of ZOA’s contributions, in 2017. Documents previously obtained and reported on in The Intercept showed that Miriam Adelson personally contributed $4,533,870 to the ZOA in a period spanning 2011 to 2015. The group’s second largest donor in that same period contributed less than $1 million.
While ZOA and World Values are unabashedly pro-Likud and hostile to any politicians or activists who question a hawkish pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy, the Jewish News Service (JNS) boasts about the breadth of its audience. “Our articles are republished in over 65 local Jewish, Christian, non-denominational print newspapers and online publications,” says the JNS website.
But the JNS has spent the past week publishing a series of news reports and columns defending Israel’s decision to deny entry for Tlaib and Omar and attacking the two freshmen Democrats. Since August 15, JNS has published fifteen articles about Tlaib and Omar, with headlines like, “Tlaib and Omar in Israel would have been an unmitigated disaster,” “Tlaib two-step quickly validates Bibi ban,” and “Israel’s decision to bar Omar and Tlaib comes from a position of strength.”
To be fair, JNS did publish one column criticizing Israel’s decision to bar Omar and Tlaib, who Jonathan Tobin, the editor-in-chief of JNS, characterized as “guilty of anti-Semitic attacks on the Jewish nation and its American supporters,” because “allowing Omar and Tlaib to pose as martyrs, Israel will engender sympathy for them among their fellow Democrats, aiding rather than hindering their effort to ensure that the party is further alienated from Israel.”
In 2015, Josh Natahan-Kazis reported for The Forward:
The Forward has learned that Adelson’s family foundation is the largest single funder behind JNS.org, a Jewish news service that serves a growing number of American Jewish news organizations. Newspapers that subscribed to the service told the Forward that they had not known its prime backer’s identity — until now…
Now, tax documents reveal that the Adelson Family Foundation has committed at least $1.2 million to JNS. The first grant of $300,000, given in 2013, amounted to 65% of JNS’s revenue that year. Adelson’s foundation gave another $450,000 in 2014, and said that year that it had committed an additional $450,000 to JNS for future payment.
In 2017, the Adelsons contributed $300,000 to JNS. JNS listed $202,325 in 2017 contributions, suggesting that some of those funds were received outside of JNS’s 2017 tax year. Regardless, the grant shows the Adelsons continuing to provide the majority of JNS’s contributions.
World Values, ZOA and JNS might seem like relatively small players in the Netanyahu government’s decision to bar Omar and Tlaib, but the outsized role of the Adelsons’ money in funding these groups, and the consistent production of content critical of, and in some cases outright smearing, Tlaib and Omar, offers insights into where the Adelsons direct their philanthropy and what their position might be on Muslim members of Congress who support the BDS movement.
None of this would matter, of course, if Trump had no track record of incorporating the Adelsons’ bidding into his foreign policy. But that’s far from the case.
Sheldon Adelson successfully pushed for Trump to replace then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster with Bolton, partly due to the former’s perceived unwillingness to take a harder line on Iran, and directly lobbied Trump to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Trump even acknowledged that Sheldon Adelson sought to control the politicians he funded. Before winning the GOP nomination and benefiting from $35 million in pro-Trump outside election spending from the Adelsons, Trump tweeted that Adelson was seeking to “mold [Marco Rubio] into the perfect little puppet.” Candidate Trump acknowledged that the man who would become his biggest benefactor would want something in return for his contributions.
Smearing and bullying Tlaib and Omar fits with Trump and Netanyahu’s pattern of pandering to white nationalists and Islamophobes. But it is at least partially the product of an ongoing campaign generously funded by Trump and the GOP’s two biggest donors. It’s well worth considering the role the Adelsons may have played in laying the groundwork for Trump and Netanyahu’s attacks on Omar and Tlaib, if not the implicit or explicit approval they may have given Trump for escalating the attacks into a call for the two members of Congress to be barred from Israel.