Trump Courts Adelson, Flip-Flops on Israel-Palestine

by Eli Clifton

Donald Trump has been accused of misogyny, racism, and Islamophobia as well as shifting his positions on key issues such as the Iraq War and abortion. But despite his slide to the right, he has stuck doggedly to many positions since announcing his candidacy. He still claims Mexico will pay for a wall on the U.S. border. He even continues to remind voters that he called Rosie O’Donnell “a fat pig,” even when simultaneously pushing back against Hillary Clinton’s accusation that he’s sexist and misogynistic.

But on a key issue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump has made a 180-degree shift in his position. And, for a candidate who proudly boasts about self-funding and not being in the pocket of billionaires and special interests, his shift has coincided with a $25 million infusion of Super PAC funds from casino billionaire, and pro-Israel mega donor, Sheldon Adelson.

Over the course of the election cycle, Adelson and Trump haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. In fact, they got off to a rocky start.

In October of last year, Trump used Adelson’s name to accuse his primary opponent, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), of being a puppet of big donors. Trump tweeted:

In December, he spoke before the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), a group backed by GOP megadonors Paul Singer and Adelson, and embraced a series of crude and historically troubling characterizations of Jews. Trump quipped that the audience was full of people who enjoy renegotiating deals and then seemed to turn on the group, saying that while he’s “the best thing that could ever happen to Israel” the RJC won’t support him because he didn’t “want your money.” In February, Trump also split with Adelson, who is a firm ally of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, by saying that he would be “neutral” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Parting ways with the rest of the GOP primary field, Trump said, “I think it serves no purposes generally to say there’s a good guy and a bad guy” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But in the summer, having clinched the nomination and failing to reach competitive fundraising targets for the general election, Trump appears to have begun soliciting Adelson for help. Adelson contributed $1.5 million to cover the cost of the GOP convention. Trump then posed with Sheldon and Miriam Adelson in their convention suite. Adelson’s vice president of government affairs, Andy Abboud, posted the photo on Twitter with the caption: “The Adelson’s [sic] with their choice for President!”

One month earlier, Abboud’s nephew, Michael Abboud, began working as a “communications coordinator” for Trump’s campaign.

Whether it was Trump clinching the nomination, Abboud’s nephew joining the campaign, or Adelson persuading Trump to change his positions, something led Trump to dramatically change his tone on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after winning over the billionaire’s support.

Trump’s promise of striking an even-handed approach in the Middle East evaporated, alongside his animosity for Adelson’s brand of big money politics.

Late last month, The New York Times reported that at a private meeting, Adelson “told Mr. Trump he was committed to his campaign, but urged the brash candidate to demonstrate a measure of humility.” The next day, Trump cryptically told a rally in Charlotte, N.C., that he had regrets over “saying the wrong thing.”

Over the past week, Adelson’s support for Trump and Trump’s shift to supporting Adelson’s politics on Israel were on full display. On Friday, Adelson announced he would contribute as much as $25 million to a Super PAC supporting Trump, making the Las Vegas billionaire Trump’s biggest funder.

Two days later, Trump met with Netanyahu in New York, telling the Israeli prime minister that he would “recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel,” if elected president. The U.S. government’s longstanding position is that the final status of Jerusalem should be resolved through negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, making Trump’s pronouncement highly unusual for a presidential candidate.

The Adelsons were feted at Monday’s presidential debate with four reserved VIP seats. Trump campaign surrogate Rudy Giuliani was filmed “kissing the ring of Miriam Adelson.” (It’s unclear from the film clip whether Giuliani was actually kissing a ring or Miriam Adelson’s hand.)

And on Wednesday, a video clip surfaced of Trump aide David Friedman, who is also president of American Friends of Bet El, a group that supports the illegal West Bank settlement of Bet El, arguing for the Israeli annexation of the West Bank in a meeting filmed two weeks earlier. In June, Friedman had told Haaretz that Trump might completely abandon a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in favor of a “binational state.”

Such a position shift would mark a massive departure from the longstanding U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the conflict. But Trump’s shift draws him far closer to Adelson’s disregard for the future of Israeli democracy—Adelson has said “So Israel won’t be a democratic state, so what?”—and Adelson’s animosity for the Palestinians, whom he accuses of making up a national narrative to “destroy Israel.”

Trump’s flip-flop on maintaining neutrality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and rejecting big donors whom he previously accused of playing politicians like “puppets” conveniently coincided with $25 million in much-needed Super PAC cash. Trump, who fancies himself a master dealmaker, must feel that he has worked out an advantageous agreement with Adelson.

Photo: Donald Trump and the Adelsons (Andy Abboud via Twitter)

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. If only US$ 15 million can buy Jerusalem city as Capital for Israel, I would think, Saudi Arabia could throw 30 million bid to buy Jerusalem. This all seems very unreal.

  2. Would Trump in the White House be so stupid as to support Israeli annexation of the entire West Bank? Quite possibly, clearly.

  3. Is it really surprising that politicians bow to rich people? This has been the story of politics in the US for the past God knows how long.

  4. Many “rich people” think Adelson is undermining US national security by encouraging reckless behavior by Israel.

  5. I admit that I am not the master of all facts here, but I believe strongly that Mr. Clifton omitted a key, and personal, element of this Trump-comes-to-Adelson-and Zionism narrative: Trump’s son-in-law is a full-on Zionist who has assumed a major role in plans for the “final disposition” of the hapless Palestinian people and their land that, I predict, will be assured if Trump prevails. Doesn’t matter much, because Killary is even more in thrall to Zionism and the neocon/neolib agenda in its fullest, scariest dimensions. Pity the Palestinians, never to achieve any measure of deserved justice, liberation, and peace.

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