The death of Jewish-American billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson at the age of 87 drew a flood of eulogies Tuesday, as politicians and other public figures in Israel, the US and elsewhere remembered the powerful political donor and philanthropist as a prominent champion of the bond and alliance between Jerusalem and Washington.
Adelson, who used his vast fortune to push conservative policies in both countries, was also remembered for his support for West Bank settlements and right-wing Jewish organizations, and for funding such consensually appreciated causes as Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance center and the Taglit-Birthright program that funds Israel trips for young Diaspora Jews.
A major patron of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, Adelson was confirmed by his company, Las Vegas Sands, to have died from complications related to treatment for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Netanyahu said in a statement that he received the news of Adelson’s death with “deep sorrow and heartbreak.”
“Sheldon’s tremendous efforts to strengthen Israel’s position in the United States and to strengthen the connection between Israel and the Diaspora will be remembered for generations,” said Netanyahu, calling Adelson “an incredible champion of the Jewish people, the Jewish state and the alliance between Israel and America.”
“Along with his wife Miri, Sheldon was one of the greatest contributors in history to the Jewish people, Zionism, settlements and the State of Israel,” he said, listing among those causes his support for Taglit-Birthright, which funds trips to Israel for young Jews from around the world, and Ariel University in the West Bank.
President Reuven Rivlin also expressed sorrow and condolences to the family, saying that Adelson was “a great American patriot who saw it as his mission and goal to strengthen the alliance between Israel and the US” and made “groundbreaking” contributions.
Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer tweeted that Adelson was a “true giant” who “devoted himself to strengthening his people, his homeland and the bonds between his beloved America and Israel.”
Trump issued a statement saying: “Sheldon lived the true American dream. His ingenuity, genius, and creativity earned him immense wealth, but his character and philanthropic generosity his great name.”
“Sheldon was also a staunch supporter of our great ally the State of Israel. He tirelessly advocated for the relocation of the United States embassy to Jerusalem, the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and the pursuit of peace between Israel and its neighbors,” Trump added. “The world has lost a great man. He will be missed.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mourned Adelson on Twitter and said that “the world, Israel and the United States are safer because of his work.”
Sheldon Adelson’s life represents the best of the American dream. Susan and I send our deepest condolences and prayers to his family as the world mourns his passing. pic.twitter.com/QkL60v7iOE
— Mike Pompeo (@mikepompeo) January 12, 2021
Former US President George W. Bush, a Republican who was also backed by Adelson, called him an “American patriot, a generous benefactor of charitable causes, and a strong supporter of Israel.” He noted that “Sheldon battled his way out of a tough Boston neighborhood to build a successful enterprise that loyally employed tens of thousands — and entertained millions.”
He was even mourned in Bahrain, which recently normalized ties with Israel in a deal brokered by the Trump administration. Bahrain’s former US envoy Houda Nonoo tweeted her condolences, hailing Adelson for his contribution to “health and educational causes, combating #antisemitism, as well as youth programs to strengthen Jewish identity.”
Through the Adelson Family Foundation, Sheldon and his wife Miriam donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable causes with the aim of strengthening Israel and the Jewish people.
They donated hundreds of millions to Taglit-Birthright; donated to a new medical school in the West Bank settlement of Ariel; and contributed to the founding of an addiction treatment clinic in Tel Aviv in 1993.
Apart from various settler leaders, Adelson was eulogized by Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settler Yamina party, who said the philanthropist was a “Jewish patriot” and that “Israel will remember him forever.” Fellow right-wing leader Avigdor Liberman, who heads the Yisrael Beytenu party, called Adelson a “true patriot with a deep connection to the State of Israel,” and Shas leader Aryeh Deri said Adelson would be remembered for his “warm heart” and dedication to the Jewish state.
Gideon Sa’ar, who recently formed the right-wing New Hope party, praised Adelson as “one of the greatest supporters of Jewish organizations in Israel and around the world” and listed his contributions to “strengthening Jewish education, commemorating the Holocaust, building bridges between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel, and strengthening Israel.”
“In addition to his philanthropic activities, Adelson devoted his time and energy to speaking up for Israel, making Israel’s case to US decision-makers, and strengthening ties between Israel and the United States,” said Sa’ar.
But not only right-wing politicians offered their condolences. Opposition leader Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, hailed Adelson’s contributions to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and Taglit-Birthright among “numerous other projects that have strengthened Jewish heritage” and that” will accompany us for many years to come.”
Taglit-Birthright issued their own tribute, calling him “a man of vision, action, Zionism, and inspiration” and saying its employees had been “both honored and humbled to work alongside the Adelson family, which ultimately guarantees the future of the Jewish people.”
Adelson had been on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which mourned a “dear mentor and friend.”
“We have lost one of the most consequential figures in American Jewish history: an American patriot, a dedicated defender of Israel, an extraordinary philanthropist, and a dear mentor and friend,” said Republican Jewish Coalition national chairman Senator Norm Coleman and executive director Matt Brooks, in a joint statement.
They hailed Adelson’s work on education, addiction recovery, and medical research, “as well as supporting pro-free market and pro-Israel candidates and organizations.” They said Adelson’s “friendship, encouragement, and wisdom will be sorely missed.”
Born in Boston in 1933, the son of a cab driver saw stunning success in the business world before becoming one of the Republican Party’s most influential benefactors and a key figure in Israeli philanthropy and politics.
The Adelsons, whose conservative views and devotion to Israel were well known, were also proprietors of Israel Hayom, widely seen as a Netanyahu mouthpiece, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Adelson also recently hit the headlines when convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and his wife Esther flew to Israel on his private jet. The Pollards mourned Adelson Tuesday, saying his “love and dedication to the Jewish people will never be forgotten.”
In 2021, Forbes magazine estimated Adelson’s wealth to stand at $35 billion as the result of being the largest shareholder in the Las Vegas Sands company, which owns casinos in Las Vegas, Singapore and Macau, China.
Adelson is survived by five children from two marriages — he divorced his first wife, Sandra, in 1988. He then married Israel-born Dr. Miriam Farbstein.
In 2019, it was announced that Adelson was undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was unable to work full-time because of the side effects from medication he was taking. Adelson also suffered from peripheral neuropathy, a condition that affects the nervous system.
Agencies contributed to this report.