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Sheldon Adelson’s coffin arrives in Israel ahead of funeral on Mount of Olives

Netanyahu pays respects to the late casino magnate before his Friday Jerusalem burial: ‘He will be remembered as a great Jewish patriot’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pays his respects to the late Jewish-American billionaire Sheldon Adelson after his coffin arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, January 14, 2021. (Ami Shooman/Israel Hayom)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pays his respects to the late Jewish-American billionaire Sheldon Adelson after his coffin arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, January 14, 2021. (Ami Shooman/Israel Hayom)

A coffin carrying Jewish-American billionaire Sheldon Adelson arrived in Israel Thursday evening, ahead of the pro-Israel and GOP megadonor’s burial in Jerusalem.

The coffin, draped in US and Israeli flags, was displayed 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 saying by the Israel Hayom daily, which Adelson controlled and operated with his wife, the paper’s publisher.

The funeral is scheduled for Friday on the Mount of Olives. The Las Vegas Review-Journal, a newspaper Adelson owned, reported Thursday that Adelson would be buried in the venerated and ancient cemetery overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City.

Jewish families have buried their dead on the Mount of Olives since time immemorial. An estimated 150,000 people are interred there. In 2012, the authorities who run the cemetery said there is barely any room left.

Miriam Adelson stands over the coffin of her husband, the late Jewish-American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, at Ben Gurion Airport, January 14, 2021. (Ami Shooman/Israel Hayom)

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, including the controversial 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.

US President Donald Trump, right, pats Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chief Executive and Republican mega donor Sheldon Adelson on the arm, before speaking at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Hollywood, Florida, December 7, 2019. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

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 sponsored Birthright trips to Israel for young Jewish adults that were criticized by some participants as intolerant of opposing views.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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