Billionaire GOP donor Sheldon Adelson, a campaign backer keen to expand his casino empire into Florida, showed up during Gov. Ron DeSantis’ business-development trip to Israel.
Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson, attended the ceremonial signing of a memorandum of understanding promising student exchange and cooperative research programs between Florida Atlantic University and Ariel University in the occupied West Bank, according to news reports and a press release issued by the governor’s office.
They also watched as Ariel bestowed an honorary fellowship upon the governor.
Neither Adelson was listed among the 98 declared participants on the trip, who include DeSantis, members of the Florida Cabinet, state legislators and mayors, business people and lobbyists, state agency chiefs and ranking aides, academic and religious leaders, and Israeli consular officials. The governor’s office has said the taxpayers will cover travel expenses for state officials only – that is, about 24 people.
DeSantis has pledged to be this country’s most pro-Israel governor and promised during his campaign last fall to make Israel the site of his first official overseas trip as governor. He has couched his admiration for the Jewish state in openly religious terms.
During a May 2 National Day of Prayer ceremony, for example, he said that “having been to Israel and actually stood in the City of David, been walking along the path that Abraham walked, seeing the different scenes for Jesus when he was alive and then ultimately crucified, and seeing the site of the tomb – all these things come alive. It will change your life forever.”
The governor has appeared to endorse Israeli’s expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Early in his term, he led the Cabinet in sanctioning Airbnb when it moved to curb listings for Israeli-owned properties in the West Bank. The company subsequently abandoned that policy.
“Your position and your activity changed the mind and changed the position of the people at Airbnb and that is really appreciated,” Ariel President Yehuda Danon told DeSantis, according to a pool report by Jeffrey Schweers of the USA Today Network.
Adelson is an ardent Zionist and supporter of President Trump, DeSantis, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom DeSantis is scheduled to meet on Thursday.
Adelson gave more than $800,000 to DeSantis’ 2018 campaign and $5 million to the Republican Party of Florida, Politico has reported.
The magnate founded and runs the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which has sought since at least 2010 to bring Vegas-style casinos to Florida, where the company would compete with the Seminole Tribe, according to a report published by the financial news organization The Street. In Florida, he also has campaigned against medical marijuana and letting the voters decide about new casinos.
The events at Ariel University happened Monday, the second working day for the delegation. The trip, scheduled to run through the end of the month, also will include an apparently ceremonial meeting of the governor and Cabinet at the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
Gaining access to Israeli research is a declared aim of the trade delegation. FAU is best known for its programs in nursing, business, and education. Ariel, meanwhile, offers “a fresh perspective on contemporary Zionism and strives to revive the values of nation-building through dedication to excellence in science and research and championing social challenges,” according to its website.
“This memorandum of understanding will result in partnerships between faculty, facilitate student exchange opportunities and initiate joint research projects in areas ranging from medicine and human health issues to disease such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and addiction research,” FAU President John Kelly, who was on travel list for Israel, said in the governor’s office press release.
Ariel’s access to U.S. grants is limited because of its location in the occupation zone. Chancellor Yigan Cohen-Orgad criticized “the silent boycott being exercised by American universities against Israeli universities,” Schweers reported.
Additional memoranda will link Haifa University with Florida Atlantic University, Miami Dade College, Florida A&M, and the University of North Florida.
See previous Phoenix coverage of the Israel trip: Lots of lobbyists with Gov. Ron DeSantis and elected FL Cabinet on Israel trip; Gov. DeSantis to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu next week; 98 people joining Gov. DeSantis and Cabinet on Israel trip starting Saturday – here are the details; Here’s who is going with Gov. Ron DeSantis and Cabinet to Israel Saturday; Gov. DeSantis, FL Cabinet fly out Sat. on 80-person trip to Israel: Who’s paying? Who’s going? His office won’t say; Gov. DeSantis and Cabinet are holding a meeting in Israel in 4 weeks. But still, no details on what it will cost and what they will be doing; Governor’s office releases bare-bones agenda for May 25 Israel trip; Public may be able to “attend” May FL Cabinet meeting in Israel via video, Attorney General Moody says; South Fla legislators joining Gov. DeSantis, Cabinet, 75 others on Israel trip May 25; Gov. DeSantis talks about his God, hypes upcoming Florida Cabinet meeting in Israel; One lawmaker says she will pay her own way for Israel trip with Gov. DeSantis and Cabinet