Jewish American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Israeli American media mogul Haim Saban, political opponents, both expressed unwavering support for Israel during the first ever gathering of the Israeli American Council this weekend.
Adelson, a longtime supporter of the Republican party, and Saban, once the Democrats’ single largest contributor and a personal friend of the Clintons, discussed US policy on Iran, media bias, and, of course, Israel, during a panel discussion at the conference on Sunday. Saban took everyone by surprise with his unusually fierce stance on Iran.
The conference began Friday, and is noted for the first national gathering of Israeli Americans, who number an estimated 600,000 in the US today. Adelson and Saban spoke Sunday before an audience of 700. The panel, mediated by IAC National Chairman Shawn Evenhaim, was videotaped.
Both men feel the US is soft on Iran. The normally more dovish Saban took a militant stand. “I would bomb the living daylights out of the sons of bitches,” an impassioned Saban stated, should all else fail. “Take military action, but only after all options have been exhausted. A stick and a carrot yes — but we’ve shown too many carrots and a small stick,” he said, referring to the US-brokered interim deal in which sanctions would be dialed back in exchange for Iran dialing back its nuclear activity.
A more measured Adelson agreed. “I wouldn’t just talk, I would take action,” he said. “Not taking action is too costly.”
The two billionaires discussed media bias, claiming only two media outlets offered a favorable portrayal of Israel: Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. Adelson challenged Saban to team up with him and buy the New York Times, often accused of biased or unfavorable reporting towards Israel.
“Why don’t you and I go after the New York Times?” he asked, to which Saban responded he had tried and it was not for sale. No problem, Adelson countered, “You pay significantly more than it’s worth, then the non-family shareholders have the right to bring a suit between the real value and what’s been offered. There’s only one way to buy it: money… but it’s not going to be one of those deals where I put up 10 times more than you,” Adelson said.
The two men are worth over $40 billion combined, and due to changes in the laws governing campaign contributions, both men hold considerable political influence with their respective political parties in the US. They make no secret of the fact that they intend to use that influence to secure a more hawkish American approach to Israeli security.
“Everyone in this room — whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat or Independent … when it comes to Israel, we’re on the same side,” said Adelson. Saban agreed: “There’s no right or left when it comes to Israel,” he joked in reference to the men’s respective seating positions on the stage.
There was only one issue of significance on which the pair differed: Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Adelson said, “Newt Gingrich was right: The Palestinians are an invented people,” referring to a controversial comment made by the former House Speaker and 2012 presidential hopeful Adelson himself supported. “The purpose of the existence of Palestinians is to destroy Israel,” he added. Saban, however, stressed demographic concerns which he feels demand Israel negotiate with the Palestinians. Only a two-state solution, in his opinion, would “secur[e] the future of a democratic Israel.”
To which Adelson replied, “So Israel won’t be a democratic state, so what?”