Sheldon Adelson is Buying the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in Israel

The White House hopes the move will help make the embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem irreversible.

On August 7,  the New York Times reported on a possible rift between Donald Trump and Sheldon Adelson. The Las Vegas casino magnate had reached out to the president to discuss the importance of a COVID-19 economic relief package only to get harangued by the president about not doing enough to help his reelection. Adelson was reportedly incensed because he and his wife had each already donated $600,000 this year alone. He abruptly ended the call.

The Trump campaign was already experiencing a cash-crunch and soon Joe Biden would report a record-breaking $364.5 million raised in August. Adelson was the most generous Republican donor in the 2016 and 2018 election cycles, but he seemed to be holding back in 2020.

But there is more to the Trump-Adelson relationship than the exchange of money. The Israeli news outlet Globes reports that Adelson is purchasing the U.S. ambassador’s residence there for an unprecedented price:

Last week “Globes” exclusively revealed that US billionaire Sheldon Adelson is buying the US Ambassador’s residence in Herzliya for NIS 300 million, making it the highest price ever paid for a house in Israel. But “Globes” can now reveal that although the US Embassy and US Ambassador David Friedman’s office moved to Jerusalem in May 2018, Friedman and his family continue to live in Herzliya.

Ambassador Friedman didn’t move to Jerusalem because security arrangements aren’t complete and his children attend high school near his current address. Adelson is helping to solve this problem by buying the residence for the equivalent of more than $88 million and then allowing Friedman to remain.

Even though Friedman still needs to live in Herzliya, the sale of the house on Galei Tachelet Street to Adelson is being rushed through by the US Administration before the November presidential elections. Adelson has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the US Republican party and President Donald Trump and is a major supporter of Israel.

The rush to sell the house is political. The White House wants to demonstrate that moving the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is irreversible, including the move of the Friedman family. The Republican party wants to show good intentions to its evangelist support base, while if President Trump loses the election it would make it harder to turn the clock back.

Adelson’s interest in solidifying the embassy’s relocation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is obvious, and perhaps that is why he promptly made up with Trump. Jonathan Swan of Axios reported that on August 10, Adelson sent a trusted aide to the Four Seasons Hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyo. for a Trump campaign fundraiser.

The linkage of official acts and political fundraising is called bribery, and the August 8 phone call between Trump and Adelson has been referred to the FBI by Democrats:

Adelson’s support for Trump in 2016 was at least partially the result of his promise to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to end the Iran nuclear deal.

Adelson is one of the richest people in the United States and is also the owner of the pro-Netanyahu “Israel Hayom” newspaper in Israel.

In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Democratic lawmakers Ted Lieu and Kathleen Rice asked to investigate the phone call, suggesting that it could have been a criminal act.

The representatives sent a letter to the intelligence agency on Monday alleging that “a crime may have occurred” during the conversation, because linking of legislative action to donor funds would be illegal.

It will be difficult to prove an illegal quid pro quo, but it’s highly unusual to see a private citizen so enmeshed in a major foreign policy change. Adelson just made the most expensive real estate purchase in Israeli history just so our ambassador can keep his kids in their preferred high school and underscore the Trump commitment to keeping the American embassy in Jerusalem.  It may not be illegal, but it’s certainly not normal.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com