With Sheldon Adelson's death, Netanyahu loses key supporter

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday mourned the passing of U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, one of Netanyahu’s staunchest American supporters, lauding his efforts to bolster ties between the U.S. and Israel that helped drive pro-Israel policy under the Trump administration.

With Adelson’s death, Netanyahu loses a key U.S. backer who for the last four years had the ear of the American president and worked tirelessly to push Israel’s priorities at the White House and in Congress. He also bids farewell to an important backroom player in Israeli politics who funded an influential free daily newspaper that served as an unofficial mouthpiece for Netanyahu.

“Sheldon’s great actions to strengthen Israel’s position in the U.S. and to strengthen ties between Israel and the diaspora will be remembered for generations,” Netanyahu said in a statement, adding he had received news of Adelson’s death with “deep sorrow and heartbreak.”

“We will forever remember Sheldon and his great contribution to Israel and the Jewish people.”

Adelson was a staunch supporter of Netanyahu and a driving force in pushing President Donald Trump’s strong pro-Israel agenda, including the controversial move of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem.

Adelson sat in the front row when the Trump administration inaugurated the Jerusalem embassy in May 2018 and attended the unveiling of the Trump’s Mideast plan, which overwhelmingly favored Israel over the Palestinians, at the White House last January.

Adelson was also active in Israeli politics, launching a free newspaper called Israel Hayom that served as an unofficial mouthpiece for Netanyahu. The newspaper has played a central role in Israeli politics, promoting exclusives and leaks from his office and even helping trigger national elections in 2015 when a Netanyahu rival tried to pass a law that would limit its influence.

It also is connected to one of the corruption scandals for which Netanyahu is standing trial. Netanyahu is accused of promising the publisher of a rival newspaper that he would limit Israel Hayom’s influence in exchange for more positive coverage in the publisher’s daily, Yediot Ahronot.

Adelson supported some causes linked to the West Bank settlement movement, including Ariel University, Israel’s only university in the occupied territory, as well as City of David, a controversial archaeological park situated in an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem.

Adelson was also a major donor to numerous mainstream causes, including Birthright, a program that brings young Jews from around the world on free trips to Israel, and Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.