Congratulations to establishment Jewish Democrats and Republicans alike for looking like total political amateurs this week.
First, David A. Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Committee, called on Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates to stop accepting donations from Sheldon Adelson, on the basis that he may have personally approved of prostitution at his Macau casinos and he is trying to inject “foreign money” into the U.S. political system (a claim first made by Senator John McCain.) Harris and the NJDC quickly recognized the clumsiness of this move and removed the petition today.
It’s unclear why Harris thought that an obviously partisan group could legitimately referee the legality of Adelson’s business and of his subsequent donations. Furthermore, of all the ways to delegitimize Adelson, arguments based on unconfirmed allegations from a former employee seem like an unnecessarily risky route. Even if it is true, prostitution at a Macau casino is so predictable that it lacks any shock value. The prostitutes have to be underage and trafficked or no dice. Besides, isn’t a casino magnate in a Chinese protectorate who is explicitly attempting to purchase an American election enough material to work with?…
Also unclear is the anticipated impact of the NJDC’s statement. Republicans stop accepting donations from Adelson? Will the NJDC next attempt to stop birds from flying, fish from swimming, and that Showboat character from loving one man till she dies? If the NJDC’s intent was to highlight divisions between Democratic and Republican Jews, then the only difference illustrated here is that the Democrats look like foot-stamping, tattletale children, while the Republicans continue to be their highly effective, amoral selves.
Meanwhile, Jewish Republicans helpfully illustrated the dangerous commingling of philanthropy in the Jewish community and political activism. Adelson’s philanthropy apparently buys political allegiances. Anti-Defamation League CEO Abe Foxman and attorney Alan Dershowitz both leaped to Adelson’s defense. Josh Nathan-Kazis noted in the Forward that
“both figures are influential members of a Jewish community that has benefited heavily from Adelson’s philanthropy… Their reactions to the NJDC campaign could spell trouble for Democratic efforts to turn the provenance of Adelson’s money into an issue for Jews.”
The most unintentionally damning defense came from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, himself a recipient of Adelson donations for his congressional campaign in northern New Jersey. Boteach conveniently articulated the exchange of philanthropic dollars for political silence in The Jewish Week:
“Jewish Democrats – and they are a sizable number – do not agree with Sheldon and Miriam Adelson on their politics. But they certainly revere them for their philanthropy. Here is a business magnate who has given over $100 million to Birthright Israel – the single most successful Jewish educational program in the history of the Jewish people – which has taken over 300,000 young Jews to the Holy Land at zero charge… Could he not show some basic appreciation to the couple who have made so many of those trips possible? Could he not have broken with the Adelsons over their opposition to President Obama, but still praised them for vastly increasing global Jewish attachment to Israel?”
In reaching for a supposedly neutralizing example of altruism, Boteach’s defense accomplishes the opposite: explicitly stating the public-relations objectives of Adelson’s supposedly non-partisan philanthropy.
To sum up: This week Jewish Democrats took a clumsy swipe at Adelson’s credibility. Then Jewish Republicans responded with oblivious defenses that only make Adelson look more manipulative than before. And then the Democrats had to give the Republicans a win, not on the strength of their defense but on the total weakness of the Democratic offense. At this rate the Knesset will have to come and train our political spokespeople in effective PR.