Ellison, Adelson Donate to Israeli Soldiers

The sound of Ricky Martin echoed through the banquet hall at Beverly Hills’ ritzy Beverly Hilton, as billionaires gathered to donate money to soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Dell Inc. Chief Executive Officer Michael Dell and his wife Susan pledged $1.8 million. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam offered up $5 million. Larry Ellison, the co-founder of Oracle, donated $9 million.

They all shared a common link: Haim Saban, executive chairman of Univision Communications Inc. Saban, who produced the “Power Rangers” children’s TV show, is accustomed to hammering out 12-figure media deals. For this event, he said he adopts a different persona -- of an emcee and “schnorrer.”

“This is a good time for a yiddish lesson,” Saban said in an interview. “A schnorrer is a beggar. I go around and I beg.”

The begging was effective. The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces drew $33 million in all last night, a new record for the annual gala. The money will support programs that include education and rehabilitation of Israeli soldiers and veterans, sometimes including sponsoring vacations.

The relationship between the U.S. and Israel has long been a cause for Saban, an Egyptian Jew who emigrated to Israel and now holds dual Israeli-U.S. citizenship. Saban sold Fox Family Channel, a joint venture with News Corp., to Disney in 2001, receiving $1.7 billion for his share.

Obama, Netanyahu

Dell, the founder of the Round Rock, Texas-based computer company, has a net worth of $16.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Adelson’s holdings are valued at $28.5 billion, making him the 21st richest person in the world, while Ellison, ranked as the seventh, has a net worth of $44.1 billion.

Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians tested the alliance again this summer, chilling the already difficult relationship between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The conflict divided the entertainment industry, especially after Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem penned a letter accusing Israel of genocide.

The tension hasn’t dimmed donations to the fundraiser. Several attendees increased their donations after they listened to testimonials.

“When we took over this gala 5 years ago, they used to raise $2 million a year,” Saban said. “Last year we raised $20 million. Facts are a stubborn thing.”