Sheldon Adelson: The casino tycoon who took on free speech and lost face

The billionaire stands accused of trying to control opinion in Israel. But now his opponents are having their say. Catrina Stewart reports

As one of Israel's main news programmes wrapped up last Friday, its anchorman resigned on air, the credits rolled with names blanked out, and the cameras panned to the production room, where staff erupted in spontaneous applause.

This moment of high drama had Israelis on the edge of their seats, appearing to signal the impending implosion of an independent news channel that had rubbed a powerful tycoon up the wrong way. In bowing to shareholder pressure to air a nearly 90-second apology to Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire Jew who was the subject of an unflattering profile on Channel 10 last January, the station has lost three of its biggest names and provoked a slew of unsympathetic coverage lamenting the blow to free speech and journalistic integrity.

The documentary, the conclusion of a four-month project, explored the life and business of the US-based billionaire, a self-made man who built his fortune in casinos in Las Vegas, propelling him into the ranks of America's richest.

When the 20-minute profile aired, Mr Adelson took exception to two points: one of the people interviewed claimed that the tycoon owed him money; and another implied that Mr Adelson had used his political connections to win a gambling licence.

Known for his litigious nature, Mr Adelson threatened to sue before demanding a lengthy on-air apology dictated by his own lawyers, denying every one of the claims.

If the independent Channel 10 had not been so cash-strapped, the story might have turned out differently. But when a major shareholder, Ron Lauder, the man behind the Estée Lauder brand, put pressure on the station's executives to air the apology, they felt they had little choice but to comply. An unidentified source at Channel 10 told the Israeli news site Walla: "We were made to understand that unless we do this, the channel would shut down."

Channel 10's news director, Reudor Benziman, resigned, quickly followed by Ruti Yovel, the editor of the This Week news programme. As the show came to a close on Friday night, outgoing anchor Guy Zohar said: "Sometimes you have to raise a black flag and stand up for professional and ethical values."

Israel's media industry has been largely sympathetic to the plight of the three media executives, viewing Mr Adelson's interference as an unwelcome blow to free speech. Weeks after nearly half a million Israelis took to the streets in social protests that, in particular, took aim at the wealthy elite, there is little sympathy for a man perceived by many as using his wealth to blur public perception of him.

Susan Hattis Rolef, a member of the Israeli Labour Party, wrote in the right-leaning Jerusalem Post newspaper: "Though both Channel 10 and the freedom of speech received an unpleasant blow, it is Adelson's reputation that has suffered most. If Adelson believes that as a result of the apology anyone who had a negative opinion of him as a man who made his fortune from the gambling business, and is using his wealth to meddle with Israeli public opinion, has changed his mind, he is wrong... He emerges from this affair looking like an egotistic bully."

The son of a Boston taxi driver, Mr Adelson worked his way up from selling newspapers on street corners to presiding over a hugely profitable casino empire, making him, as the New York Times once put it, the richest man that most people have never heard of. Forbes estimates his wealth at $23.3bn (£14.7bn), making him the 16th richest man on the planet.

A fierce opponent of a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has poured money into right-wing Jewish causes – including some that eschew a political compromise with the Palestinians – and was a major financial backer of George W. Bush's US presidential re-election campaign in 2004.

After twice failing to buy into an Israeli newspaper, he set up Israel Hayom, a daily free paper that is so supportive of Israel's right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, also a close friend of Mr Adelson, that it is widely dubbed the "Bibiton", or Bibi paper, a play on Mr Netanyahu's nickname. One Israeli columnist described Mr Adelson's investments last year as "endless capital with a political agenda".

Not surprisingly, Israel Hayom is the one paper that has stopped short of supporting the Channel 10 journalists. Opening its full-page coverage with a full reproduction of the apology to Mr Adelson, it suggested that the station's executives had quit because of the channel's low ratings and because of ongoing disputes with other staff at the channel.

But others deny that, saying many staff at the channel were incensed by the way the apology was forced upon them, not least because they were given no opportunity to challenge Mr Adelson, even though the documentary had been cleared by the station's in-house lawyers.

"The journalists involved should have received a proper chance to prove their case, either through negotiations or by going to court," said Uri Benziman, a cousin of the departing news executive and the editor of the media ethics publication Seventh Eye. "They were forced to yield to dictates made by Sheldon Adelson... [It means] that tycoons have the power to do ... whatever they wish."

From slum to Vegas

Childhood Born in August 1933 and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Sheldon Adelson was the son of a cab driver. One of five children, he sees himself as a "kid from the slums".



Career He had his first job at 12 and spent time as a mortgage broker, an investment adviser and finance consultant before making a fortune with Comdex, the big Las Vegas computer trade show. Moved into casinos via the Sands and later the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, becoming the third-richest man in America. Lost more than $20bn at the peak of the recession in 2008, but has since recouped much of those losses and is now said to be worth more than $23bn. Says he has created more than 50 companies.



He says "There is no such thing as fear – not to an entrepreneur" (ABC News interview, November 2010)



They say "He's very tough ... some would say unreasonably tough." (Gary Loveman, chief executive of casino rival Harrah's, talking to the New York Times)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Mark Wright
tvStrictly goes head-to-head with Apprentice
Sport
footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas