Jewish-American billionaire Sheldon Adelson was buried Friday in a small funeral on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City, with only close family present.
Jewish families have buried their dead on the Mount of Olives since time immemorial, with an estimated 150,000 people interred there. In 2012, the authorities who run the cemetery said there is barely any room left.
The coffin carrying the pro-Israel and GOP megadonor arrived in Israel Thursday evening. It was draped in US and Israeli flags and was on display at Ben Gurion Airport, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Adelson’s wife, Miriam, and other family members paid their respects.
“He will be remembered as a great Jewish patriot, this is a great loss for the Jewish people,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying by the Israel Hayom free daily, which Adelson controlled and operated with his wife, the paper’s publisher.
Adelson, who owned the Las Vegas Sands gambling empire, died from complications related to treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Sands and his wife announced Tuesday.
Adelson, the son of Jewish immigrants, was a staunch supporter of Netanyahu and a driving force in pushing US President Donald Trump’s strong pro-Israel agenda, notably including the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Adelson sat in the front row when the Trump administration inaugurated the Jerusalem embassy in May 2018 and attended the unveiling of Trump’s Mideast plan, which was seen as favoring Israel over the Palestinians, at the White House last January.
Last year, Adelson cemented the United States’ decision to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem with his purchase of the ambassador’s residence in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, making it harder for future presidents to reverse the move. At a cost of more than $67 million, the sprawling estate on the Mediterranean coast appeared to be the most expensive single residence ever sold in Israel.
Adelson also recently made headlines when convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and his wife, Esther, flew to Israel on his private jet.
His attachment to Israel was lifelong and so deep that he once said he wished his military service had been in an Israeli uniform instead of an American one.
When asked at a gambling conference what he hoped his legacy would be, Adelson said it wasn’t his glitzy casinos or hotels, but rather his impact in Israel. He donated $25 million, a record sum for a private citizen, to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. He also established a think tank in Jerusalem.
In the US, Adelson helped underwrite congressional trips to Israel, helped build a new headquarters for the lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and later was a top supporter of the Israeli-American Council, whose conferences have attracted top Republicans (Vice President Mike Pence) and Democrats (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi). He also sponsored Birthright trips to Israel for young Jewish adults.
Agencies contributed to this report.