It occurred to me the other day that the zealously pro-Israel billionaire Sheldon Adelson and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, actually have one big thing in common. They are both trying to destroy Israel. Mr. Adelson is doing it by loving Israel to death and Ayatollah Khamenei by hating Israel to death. And now even Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey inadvertently got drawn into this craziness.
What’s the logic? Very simple. Iran’s leaders want Israel destroyed but have no desire, in my view, to use a nuclear bomb to do it. That would expose them to retaliation and sure death. Their real strategy is more subtle: Do everything possible to ensure that Israel remains in the “occupied territory,” as the U.S. State Department refers to the West Bank, won by Israel in the 1967 war.
By supporting Palestinian militants dedicated to destroying any peace process, Tehran hopes to keep Israel permanently mired in the West Bank and occupying 2.7 million Palestinians, denying them any statehood and preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state that might recognize Israel and live in peace alongside it. The more Israel is stuck there, the more Palestinians and the world will demand a “one-state solution,” with Palestinians given the right to vote. The more Israel resists that, the more isolated it becomes.
Iran and its ally Hamas have plenty of evidence that this strategy is working: Israel’s 47-year-old occupation of the West Bank has led it to build more settlements there, making it look like the most active colonial power on the planet today. The 350,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank reinforce that view by claiming their presence in the West Bank is not about security but a divinely inspired project to reunite the Jewish people with their biblical homeland.
The result is a growing movement on college campuses and in international organizations to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state because of this occupation. This movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel is gaining adherents not only among non-Jews on U.S. campuses but even within some campus Jewish centers.
Iran could not be happier. The more Israel sinks into the West Bank, the more it is delegitimized and isolated, the more the world focuses on Israel’s colonialism rather than Iran’s nuclear enrichment, the more people call for a single democratic state in all of historic Palestine.
And now Iran has an ally: Sheldon Adelson — the foolhardy Las Vegas casino magnate and crude right-wing, pro-Israel extremist. Mr. Adelson gave away some $100 million in the last presidential campaign to fund Republican candidates, with several priorities in mind: that they delegitimize the Palestinians and that they avoid any reference to the West Bank as “occupied territories” and any notion that the United States should pressure Israel to trade land for peace there. Both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney took the money and played by Sheldon’s rules.
In case you missed it, the Republican Jewish Coalition recently held a retreat at an Adelson casino in Las Vegas. It was dubbed “the Sheldon Primary.” Republicans lined up to compete for Mr. Adelson’s blessing and money, or as Politico put it: “Adelson summoned (Jeb) Bush and Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin to Las Vegas. … The new big-money political landscape — in which a handful of donors can dramatically alter a campaign with just a check or two — explains both the eagerness of busy governors to make pilgrimages to Las Vegas and the obsession with divining Adelson’s 2016 leanings.”
Mr. Adelson personifies everything that is poisoning our democracy and Israel’s today — swaggering oligarchs using huge sums of money to try to bend each system to their will.
Mr. Christie, in his speech, referred to the West Bank as “occupied territories” — as any knowledgeable U.S. leader would and as the U.S. government always has. Some Republican Jews explained to Mr. Christie after he finished that he had made a terrible faux pas. The West Bank should be called “disputed territories” or “Judea and Samaria,” the way hard-line Jews prefer.
So Mr. Christie hastily arranged to talk with Mr. Adelson. “The New Jersey governor apologized in a private meeting in the casino mogul’s Venetian office shortly afterward,” Politico reported. Mr. Adelson “accepted” Mr. Christie’s “explanation” and “quick apology.”
Read that sentence over and contemplate it.
I don’t know if Israel has a Palestinian partner for a secure withdrawal from the West Bank or ever will. But I know this: If Israel wants to remain a Jewish, democratic state, it should be doing everything it can to nurture such a partner or acting unilaterally to get out. Because I’m certain that when reports about the “Adelson primary” reached the desk of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, a big smile crossed his face and he said to his aides: “May Allah grant Sheldon a long life. Everything is going according to plan.”
Thomas L. Friedman is a syndicated columnist for The New York Times.