Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson isn’t just interested in political giving.
Since 2007, the casino mogul has given into the hundreds of millions of dollars to pro-Israel causes through a Massachusetts-based foundation he and his wife operate, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of Internal Revenue Service filings.
The top recipient of tax-exempt gifts by the Adelson Family Foundation is by far a foundation called Birthright Israel. It has received $123 million from Adelson since 2007, IRS filings indicate.
Birthright offers free 10-day trips to Israel to Jews between age 18 and 26. The goal of the trips, according to Birthright, is to “send tens of thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift” and is made possible through a “unique partnership” between the government of Israel and private philanthropists.
Foremost among those philanthropists is Adelson, whose support accounts for fully 40 percent of the money raised by the Birthright Foundation since 2007.
In 2008, Adelson’s $27.5 million gift to Birthright constituted 57 percent of all money raised by the organization. His patronage accounted for 19 percent of the group’s revenue in 2011, the most recent year IRS records are available.
Adelson’s reported contributions are, however, poised to increase: In its 2011 filing, the foundation reported it would provide a $20 million payment during the next year.
The program has been criticized for offering tours that gloss over Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its economic blockade of Gaza.
Birthright is doubly controversial because of its sponsorship by the Israeli government. While it offers any member of the Jewish faith free travel to the country, the organization does not extend the same offer to non-Jews who consider Israel or Israeli-occupied lands their home. Israel has defied a decades-old United Nations Resolution 194 providing millions of Palestinian refugees the “right to return” to homes they were displaced from inside Israel.
During the 2012 election, Adelson and his family shelled out $93 million to super PACs making him the top donor to the political spending groups.
Adelson first bolstered the candidacy of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who most notably entered the Israel-Palestine fray by declaring Palestinians an “invented” people. Adelson echoed the sentiment and signed off on another $5 million gift to Gingrich’s super PAC weeks later.
When Gingrich dropped out of the race, the Adelsons contributed heavily to the Restore Our Future super PAC, which backed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
And Adelson’s casino fortune pervades both Israeli and American politics. He owns an Israeli newspaper that supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a member of the Likud Party, and is on the board of directors for the nonprofit Republican Jewish Coalition, which produced a slew of anti-Obama ads in 2012.
Since establishing his foundation in 2007, Adelson has made $191 million in contributions through it. Beyond Birthright Israel, his other charitable gifts include:
- $19.3 million to the American Society for Yad Vashem, a New York-based organization devoted to Holocaust remembrance
- $4.5 million to establish the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies in Israel’s Shalem Center in Jerusalem in 2007. The academic research center sought to “develop, articulate and build support for the strategic principles needed to address the challenges currently facing Israel and the West,” and counted current Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren as its fellow. The center closed in 2009.
- $2.3 million to American Israel Education Foundation since 2006, the 501(c)(3) arm of the high-powered U.S.-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
- $1.8 million to the Zionist Organization of America, a group that lost its tax-exempt status in 2012 after failing to file tax returns for three consecutive years. Adelson joined pundit Glenn Beck and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) at the ZOA’s 2011 annual dinner. More recently, ZOA urged opposition to President Barack Obama’s nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, (R-Neb.) as defense secretary, citing his “virtually unrivaled record of hostility to Israel” and “bigotry towards Jews.”
- $1 million to the One Jerusalem Charitable and Educational Fund, a New York-based organization that has, since 2001, pushed Israeli and American negotiators to maintain the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem and consolidate control over the entire city — a key sticking point in negotiations with Palestinian authorities.
The Adelson Family Foundation’s tax filings can be found here:
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