Protocols of the Elders of Las Vegas

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is probably the most notorious work of anti-Semitic propaganda ever written. First surfacing publicly in 1905 after several years in private circulation, the work was a fabricated transcript of a secret meeting of rabbis plotting to control the world, as Gary Saul Morson explains. Its initial purpose appears to have been to blame the Jews of Russia for the radical activity that was beginning to shake the foundations of the Tsarist Russian Empire. Translated into English, French, German, Polish, Spanish and Arabic, its unfounded claim that a global Jewish conspiracy seeks to rule the world has shaped and seeped into anti-Semitic propaganda for over a century.

The Protocols of the Elder of Las Vegas, on the other hand, is a 21st century work in progress, and it is no hoax. It’s about a casino magnate with an estimated net worth of just under $25 billion (the seventh richest man in the United States) who decides to devote a small portion of his vast wealth to a neoconservative agenda determined to thwart negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinians; prevent the reelection of an incumbent U.S. president; engineer the destruction of political liberalism; and reshape the political environments of the U.S. and Israel by funding the election of politicians who serve his own corporate and ideological interests. Following is a rough draft of the plot line so far.

Chapter One: The Neoconservative

In April 2007, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson’s newly-established Adelson Family Foundation gives a $4.5 million three year grant to the Shalem Center in Jerusalem to establish the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies to “explore topics ranging from democracy and security, to nationalism, terror and identity.” Heading the Adelson Institute is former Soviet dissident Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky, who, after arriving in Israel, became a nationalist hardliner. Named as Adelson Institute fellows are former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon (currently Israel’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Affairs); Yossi Klein Halevi (a contributing editor of The New Republic since 2008); Martin Kramer, an Middle East Studies professor and Washington Institute (WINEP) Fellow; and historian Michael Oren who became Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. in 2008.

The Adelson Institute’s first project is a June 2007 conference on “Democracy & Security” in Prague. Its agenda is a melange of neoconservative talking points: support for the U.S. war in Iraq; demanding human rights for freedom fighters (as long as they are not Palestinian); celebrating Eastern European resistance to Soviet domination and Communism, which had culminated in the integration of most former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO and the EU; and defending Israel’s right to absolute sovereignty. As Jim Lobe astutely noted at the time, the conference constitutes “a kind of ‘Neo-Conservative International’ designed to rally support for ‘dissidents,’ primarily from the Islamic world, and give them hope that ‘regime change’ in their countries is possible much as it was in the former Soviet bloc almost 20 years ago.

Within this “Middle East as Eastern Europe” neoconservative paradigm, Iran is accorded the role of “evil empire” once reserved for the Soviet Union. Two months later, in August, Sheldon Adelson is among the major donors who establish Freedom’s Watch, an advocacy group whose supporters overlapped with or were closely tied to the Republican Jewish Coalition. Freedom’s Watch immediately launches a 5 week, $15 million media blitz supporting President George W. Bush’s “surge” strategy in Iraq. In October, Freedom’s Watch sponsors a private forum of 20 “experts” on radical Islam and Iran.

Chapter 2: Ready for Prime (Minister) Time Player

In August 2007, after a failed attempt to purchase the Israeli evening newspaper Maariv, Adelson launches an Israeli newspaper of his own, Israel Hayom (Israel Today) with a reported $180 million investment. Israel Hayom soon achieves wide circulation. Not only is it free, it also offers home delivery at no charge. For Adelson, Israel Hayom would be a tool with which to remove Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from office, and replace him with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Olmert resigns as Prime Minister on July 29, 2008 after being accused of corruption during his previous posts as cabinet minister and Jerusalem’s mayor. The charges included taking $150,000 in bribes from a U.S. businessman and defrauding Israeli charities by double-billing them for overseas fundraising trips. Israel Today regales its readers with sensationalist headlines and accounts of Olmert pocketing cash-stuffed envelopes and enjoying a lavish lifestyle in luxury hotels. Olmert insists he is innocent and will ultimately be vindicated.

In a CNN interview this past May, Olmert explains to Christiane Amanpour that he had been the victim of a right-wing conspiracy involving American millionaires determined to thwart his peacemaking efforts and destroy his political career:

“[Trying to make peace] was a killer for me,” he said. “I had to fight against superior powers, including millions and millions of dollars that were transferred from this country by figures in the extreme right-wing who tried to topple me. There is no question about it. I know the names of people who spent millions of dollars who tried to stop me. They wanted to prevent a government led by me from achieving peace.”

In July 2012, Olmert is acquitted of major corruption charges, but found guilty of a lesser charge of breaching the public trust. Olmert calls for an investigation of “right wing American Jews” who had used their money and influence to topple him from power. Former government Minister Haim Ramon tells Israel Radio:

American right-wing Jews who filed countless complaints against Olmert have to be investigated. They saw Olmert as the man who could deliver an agreement with the Palestinians. Consider what Olmert could have done had he remained prime minister for two more years instead of Netanyahu.

Adelson’s intransigence on the Palestinian issue also brings him into conflict with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Adelson has been underwriting the cost of trips to Israel for members of Congress — although only for Republicans sponsored by an AIPAC-affiliate — and contributed toward a luxurious new office building for AIPAC in Washington DC, according to  Connie Bruck in the New Yorker. Adelson is infuriated when he discovers that AIPAC is supporting a letter signed by 130 members of the House of Representatives that asks the Bush  administration to increase economic aid to the Palestinians, a measure also supported by the Israeli government.


Chapter 3: All the President’s Money?

In 2011, Adelson forges an alliance with Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Adelson and his wife contribute $10 million to Gingrich‘s Winning Our Future political action committee. Adelson’s cash enables Gingrich’s campaign to run ads vilifying rival Mitt Romney‘s record at Bain Capital. When Gingrich drops out of the GOP primary race, Adelson begins negotiations with Romney. In June, “a well-placed source in the Adelson camp with direct knowledge of the casino billionaire’s thinking” hints to Forbes‘  Steve Bertoni that Adelson might even be willing to make “limitless” donations to Romney’s campaign in order to prevent Barack Obama’s re-election.

“What scares me is the continuation of the socialist-style economy we’ve been experiencing for almost four years,” Adelson tells Bertoni in an interview. The man who amassed more wealth than anyone in the U.S. during the three and a half years Obama has been in office — $21.6 billion, which is about 90% of his current fortune — declares, “I believe that people will come to their senses and not extend the current Administration’s quest to socialize this country.”

Adelson has other items on his agenda besides putting the lid on creeping “socialism” in the U.S. During Romney’s Israel visit, Netanyahu gave Romney a letter signed by the heads of all non-Arab political parties in Israel requesting clemency for Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel while employed by U.S. naval intelligence. Pollard was  sentenced to life in prison 27 years ago. All U.S. presidents including Obama have declined to free Pollard, who supporters say has served more time in prison than any other spy in U.S. history. An associate of Adelson’s, identified as a major Republican donor, tells the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake and Dan Ephron that Adelson is putting pressure on Romney to commit to freeing Pollard if he is elected. Romney’s response has been that he’ll have to wait until he is president and has access to top level national security files to make a decision about Pollard. That’s not the sort of answer Adelson likes to hear, so it’s being touted as evidence that Romney is a principled and independent thinker, not Adelson’s yes-man, despite the lure of massive cash infusions. According to Jonathan S. Tobin: “The Romney campaign isn’t shy about making it clear that even the most beneficent contributor to the candidate’s coffers can expect nothing more than a civil hearing.”

“When Adelson was merely rich, he wrote checks for causes that he favored and for politicians whom he supported,” writes Connie Bruck. “Occasionally, he demanded to be heard. But he did not expect to play a significant role in U.S. foreign policy, or in Israel’s strategic decisions, or in the fate of a sitting Israeli Prime Minister. That was before he acquired many billions of dollars.”

Chapter 4: The Tycoon

Sheldon Adelson’s empire of shifting Sands was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2008. Now he is the 14th richest man in the world. ProPublica and Frontline have been co-publishing some in-depth reporting about Adelson’s business methods that may be under investigation, including “Inside the Investigation of Leading Republican Money Man Sheldon Adelson” and “New Questions about Sheldon Adelson’s Casino Operations in Macao.” Thomas B. Edsall also provides a detailed discussion of the business aspects behind Adelson’s success and questionable practices by which he may have attained it in the New York Times.

But could his obsession with politics be setting up Adelson for another downfall? Howard Stutz suggests in the Casino City Times that Adelson’s investors have reason to be concerned about the declining profitability and downgraded value of  shares in Adelson’s casino empire, while he lavishes his largesse on philanthropy and politicians:

A few days after Las Vegas Sands Corp. disappointed investors with quarterly earnings declines that sent the company’s share price tumbling and had analysts breaking out in a cold sweat, Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson jetted to Israel to watch presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney deliver a speech in Jerusalem. “It was a great speech. Loved it,” Adelson told Bloomberg News.

In Israel, he was treated like a rock star. Adelson, 78, was swarmed by Israeli citizens, Romney donors, and the press as he slowly made his way to his wheelchair after the speech. Back in the U.S., Argus Research downgraded its view of Las Vegas Sands stock. The firm placed a Hold recommendation on the shares, a change from its previous Buy rating. The weaker outlook reflected Argus’ concerns that revenues and profits from Las Vegas Sands’ four Macau casino developments were in trouble. During the quarter, net income from Macau declined 40 percent. Argus said the Chinese economy seems to be slowing.

Analysts openly wonder if Adelson, Las Vegas Sands’ controlling stockholder with 57 percent of the outstanding shares, is being distracted from the casino operations by his bi-continental political endeavors. “With shares falling will Sheldon open his wallet for [Las Vegas Sands] or the GOP?” Stifel Nicolaus Capital Markets gaming analyst Steve Wieczynski asked at the top of a critical July 26 research report discussing the company’s quarterly results.

Chapter 5:  The Outcome

A New York Times editorial views Adelson as “the perfect illustration of the squalid state of political money, spending sums greater than any political donation in history to advance his personal, ideological and financial agenda, which is wildly at odds with the nation’s needs.”

The Protocols of this Elder of Las Vegas is no conspiratorial fabrication. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the last chapter has yet to be written. Will money ultimately decide the 2012 U.S. election? And if it does, will it be Sheldon Adelson’s?

Update Aug. 12: Peter Hamby of CNN tweeted at 8:15 am today, “Paul Ryan heading to Vegas on Tuesday, will be at Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian resort, per Nevada source.” (h/t Ali Gharib).

Marsha B. Cohen

Marsha B. Cohen is an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations and US foreign policy towards Iran and Israel. Her articles have been published by PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau. IPS, Alternet, Payvand and Global Dialogue. She earned her PhD in International Relations from Florida International University, and her BA in Political Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.



  1. This is a very astute summary analysis, but given the last hundred years of history and the precipitous and palpable rise in antisemitism in all kinds of places, including the USA, the title and its implications–in spite of, and yet, paradoxically reinforced by the explanation in the first paragraph is a very unfortunate, even dangerous, choice.

  2. So the future of the world is to be decided by the personal prejudices of an owner of gambling casinos. How low America has fallen!

    The title of the piece was irresistible but unwise.

  3. I don’t know why the title scares some people. It’s an excellent piece. I don’t know much about Jews, and I assume that Ms. Cohen is Jewish, because of her name. If she is Jewish, I’m sure she’ll be labeled a “self-hating Jew” for writing this. Being a relative outsider from Mexico City, it’s really creepy how it seems that all criticism to such malpractices involving Israel has to come from Jews, or else you are almost equated to an officer from the SS.

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