Controversy over ‘occupied territories’ climb-down

Opinion: Battle for funding in Republican presidential campaign

In a desperate effort to clamber his way back into the race for the Republican presidential nomination for 2016, New Jersey governor Chris Christie last week kowtowed to Zionism and apologised for telling the truth.

Days earlier, Christie had been cleared of involvement in a bizarre plot last September to snarl up the George Washington Bridge between New York and New Jersey for four days in order to punish Mark Sokolich, mayor of Fort Lee at the New Jersey end of the bridge, for refusal to endorse the governor’s campaign for re-election in November. A three-lawyer commission of inquiry appointed by Christie reported to him a fortnight ago that the plot had been orchestrated from within his office by his most senior officials but that he hadn’t been aware it was happening. We know that one.

Christie pronounced himself “completely vindicated”, then flew to Las Vegas to address a convention of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) funded by multibillionaire gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson at which Republican hopefuls including former Florida governor Jeb Bush and current governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio, as well as Christie, successively paraded their wares for Adelson’s inspection.

Gambling capital
Adelson is the biggest single donor to US political campaigns, channelling tens of millions of dollars every cycle to Republicans who are dependably sound not just on Israel but on other policy areas important to him. In 2012, Adelson gave $10 million to Newt Gingrich's primary campaign, then, when Gingrich crashed out, donated another $10 million to Mitt Romney. He is reputedly the eighth richest person in the world, earning, so to speak, millions of dollars a day from casinos in the gambling capital of the world, Macau, the former Portuguese enclave, now part of China. Macau's gambling industry is 10 times bigger than that of Las Vegas.


In his address to the RJC, Christie recalled a visit to the Middle East in 2012: “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.” The remark was apparently greeted by an intake of breath. To Adelson’s way of thinking, the designation “occupied territories” is a declaration of hostility towards Israel: the proper phrase is “Judea and Samaria”. That this is not the attitude of ultra-Zionists only was evident from the comment of former Obama deputy press secretary Bill Burton: “If you look at what happened in Las Vegas where he referred to Palestine as occupied territories, I mean, that’s the sort of thing that shows that he’s not on top of his game like you need to be when you’re a presidential candidate.”

Back in Las Vegas, Christie asked for a private meeting with Adelson in order, as he explained, “to clarify my remarks and apologise”. Adelson graciously accepted the climbdown.

There is a common view which this episode will reinforce that rich Zionists have captured US policy on the Middle East and use their financial clout to deliver uncritical support from the political elite for Israeli outrages against dispossessed Palestinians. There may be truth in this, but not the whole truth.

Nevada Democratic congresswoman Shelley Berkley says Adelson told her “old Democrats were with the union and he wanted to break the back of the unions and therefore had to break the back of the Democrats”. After bitter battles to prevent the workers organising, he runs the only non-union casino on the Las Vegas strip.

Asked about his opposition to Obama during the last presidential race, Adelson’s immediate response was: “What scares me is the continuation of the socialist-style economy we’ve been experiencing for almost four years . . . The redistribution of wealth is the path to more socialism.” He believes food stamps are bad for America.

Adelson enthusiastically welcomed Romney’s 2012 pledge to reduce all marginal tax rates by 20 per cent.

Corrupt Practices Act
Another major reason for Adelson's animus against Obama is that the US justice department has launched an investigation into alleged violation of the Corrupt Practices Act provision outlawing the bribing of foreign officials. Asked by the website for reasons for bankrolling right-wing Republicans, Adelson ranked the corrupt practices investigation at number one; defending Israel and opposing trades unions joint second; then personal dislike of Obama; the need to develop a more effective conservative bloc; and the removal of obstacles to expanding small businesses.

Adelson’s defence of Israel is no doubt genuinely felt but is by no means his only reason for pouring millions into politics. His main commitment is to unbridled capitalism. But it would hard to garner mass support and damage the Democrats on that score. Whipping up support for Israel is a better bet.

Very useful issue for some is Israel.