While billionaire Sheldon Adelson has yet to disclose his Republican presidential pick, the Israeli newspaper he publishes seems to have all but anointed Marco Rubio.
Many of the candidates have visited Israel this year to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an Adelson favorite who has grown closer to the Republican leadership as he has tangled with President Barack Obama.
Rubio, though, received singular treatment by the newspaper, Israel Hayom, when he declared his candidacy in April for the 2016 nomination. The announcement merited a front-page headline, leading to an interview with the paper’s foreign editor. Israel Hayom, which is distributed for free, has the highest circulation in the country.
“It became clear that Rubio may be the most pro-Israel presidential candidate that America has to offer,” wrote Boaz Bismuth, the foreign editor who also holds the title of senior analyst. “This was the man who stole Hillary Clinton’s thunder this week, with his freshness, his charisma, his personal biography and, most importantly, with the new blood he would be introducing into the White House, representing change while preserving the values that have made America a world leader.”
Israel’s Seventh Eye, an online media review, described the interview as “fawning over” Rubio, noting that it was accompanied by photos of derogatory stories from U.S. newspapers about Hillary Clinton. Adelson, 81, ranked 26th on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a fortune estimated at $26.4 billion, said he spent $100 million trying to get Republicans elected in 2012.
Ron Reese, an Adelson spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Republican hopefuls flock to Las Vegas every election cycle to seek Adelson’s endorsement at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s leadership conference. The event is nicknamed “Sheldonfest” and held at the Venetian, Adelson’s flagship hotel and casino. Another ritual is for candidates to visit Israel as part of their efforts to acquire foreign-policy credentials.
Bismuth, a dual Israeli-French citizen known for his intrepid reporting from Iraq, Lebanon and other nations hostile to Israel, rejected any suggestion he is Adelson’s mouthpiece.
“I’ve been a reporter for 31 years and nobody dictates what I write,” he said in a telephone interview in Tel Aviv. Bismuth interrupted his newspaper career in 2004 to serve as Israel’s ambassador to Mauritania.
In articles on Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker, Bismuth was more restrained, noting their statements supportive of Israel in pieces published mostly in question-and-answer format.
Israel Hayom has been engaged in a circulation war with the nation’s best-selling paper, Yediot Aharonot, which routinely mocks it as a tool provided by Adelson for Netanyahu. Political opponents of Netanyahu’s who are hoping to reduce its influence are pushing legislation that would require the newspaper to charge readers.
Adelson and his Israeli wife, Miri, were in the front row of the visitors gallery when Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress in March and denounced Obama’s proposed agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program. The Israeli leader was invited by Republican House Speaker John Boehner.