by Eli Clifton
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has never made it a secret that he’s enamored of his biggest patron, casino billionaire and GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson. Adelson contributed $500,000 to support Boteach’s failed congressional campaign in 2012 and provides the lion’s share of funding for Boteach’s “World Values Network.” Boteach, for his part, repays Adelson with lavish praise both in print, referring to his patron’s “convivial warmth and earthiness that is at once charming and disarming,” and in public gatherings, such as a 2014 appearance at Yeshiva University when Adelson went unchallenged asserting that “there’s no such thing as a Palestinian.”
Boteach’s friendly treatment of Adelson also comes in a less noticeable manner. He has conveniently overlooked where Adelson’s money comes from and the close ties Adelson has established with Beijing to secure a casino license in Macau and maintain a steady flow of Mainland Chinese gamblers to his casinos in the former Portuguese colony.
Boteach has a sharper side for those he deems insufficiently supportive of Israel. On Saturday, Boteach’s organization, which received $1.02 million—over 60 percent of its annual revenue—from the Adelson Family Foundation in 2016, took out a full-page ad in The New York Times blasting actress Natalie Portman for her decision not to accept the Genesis Prize. Portman explained she would not attend the ceremony because she “did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony.” She also pointed out that “the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values,” presumably a reference to the killing of Palestinian protesters during the recent demonstrations at the Israeli border fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip.
Boteach blasted Portman as a hypocrite for her criticisms of Israel, saying:
But Natalie seems to have no problems with actual despotic regimes.
In 2014, Natalie attended the Shanghai International Film Festival. Then, in 2016, she was featured at the Beijing International Film Festival, despite the fact that both events were sponsored and hosted by the Chinese State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) – best known as the censorship enforces and propaganda machine of the Chinese Communist Government.
The body gained notoriety for its 2013 broadcast of prisoners being led to their execution.
Together, these outlets constitute the mainstay of China’s state-sponsored propaganda apparatus. It’s is [sic] also responsible for much of the censorship in the Chinese Authoritarian State, with a US Congressional committee maintaining that SARFT “controls the content of all radio, television, satellite, and Internet broadcasts in China.”
What would lead Natalie to embrace some of the world’s most authoritarian offenders and ignore state-sponsored censorship while announcing a boycott of democratic Israel on its 70th birthday?
Indeed, Boteach could pose some of these same questions to his patron, whose operations in Macau, a Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR) just posted net revenues of $2.16 billion in the first quarter of 2018.
“We grew by an exceptional 35 percent in premium mass when compared to the prior year, and our retail mall sales grew by 33 percent over the prior year, with each of our four malls delivering strong growth,” Adelson told listeners on the company’s earning call on Wednesday.
And Las Vegas Sands, Adelson’s company, is upfront about its dependence on Mainland Chinese gamblers at their Macau properties. Sands’ COO, Robert G. Goldstein, told the call:
Macao has become a full-blown destination, has worked for China far beyond Guangdong and far beyond Hong Kong. The penetration into China is growing and growing and finding younger and more affluent customers who find Macao a compelling destination.
Moreover, Adelson had to curry favor with Beijing in order to get his operations in Macau off the ground.
A 2004 lawsuit filed by Richard Suen, a Hong Kong-based businessman, provided evidence that Adelson went to extraordinary lengths to kill congressional opposition to Beijing’s Olympic bid in order to secure its casino license in Macau. Adelson, visiting Beijing in July 2001, allegedly made a call to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), then the House majority whip and a recipient of Adelson’s campaign contributions, during a meeting with the mayor of Beijing. The New Yorker’s Connie Bruck reported on the deposition given by Sands executive William Weidner. She wrote:
Weidner, in his deposition, described the relationship between DeLay—“a very religious guy”—and Adelson. “The link between Sheldon Adelson and right-wing religious Christians is the commonality of a strong Israel,” he said. “So it just happens to be Sheldon has taken Tom DeLay to Israel and he’s a friend.” DeLay told Adelson that he supported the resolution because of his concern about China’s record on human rights but added that he would be discussing the legislative agenda shortly. “Sheldon folds his cell phone up and says to the mayor of Beijing, ‘I’m going to do my best,’” Weidner said. “About three hours later DeLay calls and he tells Sheldon, ‘You’re in luck,’ ” he continued, “ ‘because we’ve got a military-spending bill. . . . We’re not going to be able to move the bill, so you tell your mayor that he can be assured that this bill will never see the light of day.’ So Sheldon goes and he goes to the mayor and he says, ‘The bill will never see the light of day, Mr. Mayor. Don’t worry about it.’” Weidner also instructed the Sands’s lobbyists in Washington, Patton Boggs, to suggest to the Chinese Embassy that Adelson and Las Vegas Sands were involved in the process that stalled the bill.
China was successful in its bid for the 2008 summer Olympics and Adelson got his casino license in 2002.
Weidner later said that the meeting in Beijing helped Sands “learn about the Chinese and Macanese governments” and gave Weidner and Adelson “the opportunity to appear helpful with China’s bid to host the 2008 Olympics.”
Boteach’s selective focus on Portman for attending Chinese film festivals and failing to denounce Chinese human rights abuses stands in striking contrast to Adelson, who has even gone as far as defending China against its detractors in Congress.
Speaking at the 2007 groundbreaking of Sands’ “Las Vegas Strip of Asia,” the Cotai Strip in Macau, Adelson said, according to Bruck:
… that many members of Congress criticize China for its human-rights record, but he added that he liked the way the Chinese run their country. “People seem to be living a good life in China,” he said. “Look at the incredible progress China has made. How can someone say they’re doing the wrong thing?” He added that those who don’t approve of the way China is governed need not go to the country. “I don’t think the U.S. should be the policeman of the whole world,” he said.
Boteach, for his part, appears to be policing the acceptable discourse on criticizing Israel using the financial muscle of one of the world’s wealthiest men, a man whose fortune is at least partly amplified by his close ties to Beijing.
Portman is guilty of crossing the Adelson-Boteach line on criticizing Israel, not of offending Boteach’s newfound sensibilities about China’s human rights abuses and censorship.