Casino Mogul’s Wife Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom
Miriam Adelson, the wife of Las Vegas Sands Corp chief executive Sheldon Adelson, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony on Saturday. Miriam Adelson was described as “a committed doctor, philanthropist, and humanitarian” in a White House biography for the ceremony.
The list of 2018 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom were retiring U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), former Minnesota Vikings Hall of Fame defensive linemen, Hall-of-Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, and retired Minnesota Supreme Court justice Alan Page.
Posthumous recipients were singer and pop icon Elvis Presley, conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, and MLB baseball legend Babe Ruth.
Miriam Adelson (nee: Farbstein) was born in Tel Aviv in 1945 to parents who had fled Poland before the Holocaust. Her father was prominent in the Mapam politicial party, a forerunner to the left-wing Meretz party of today. She attended the Hebrew Reali School for 12 years and postsecondary school at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Medical School, where she received a medical degree as an internist.
Miriam Adelson’s Philanthropy
Miriam Adelson served two years in the Israeli military as a medical officer. She married an Israeli doctor and had two children. The two divorced in the mid-1980s and Miriam Adelson went to Rockefeller University in New York City on an exchange program — where she specialized in drug addiction.
While studying at Rockefeller, she met Sheldon Adelson. The two married in 1991. Miriam Adelson has devoted herself to drug abuse counseling in the decades since. She founded a drug counseling clinic and research center in New York in 1993, then co-founded the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Research Clinic in Las Vegas in 2000.
Miriam Adelson’s Activism
Famous for saying she “got stuck” in America after falling for Sheldon Adelson, Miriam Adelson has maintained a lifelong devotion to Israel and is credited with stoking Sheldon’s pro-Israeli causes. The two have supported Likud Party members and befriended key figures like Benjamin Netanyahu.
To support conservative politics in Israel, Sheldon Adelson bought Israel Hayom, the country’s newspaper with the largest circulation; Miriam Adelson is listed as the newspaper’s publisher. Sheldon Adelson has been a vocal proponent of aggressive Israeli policies, including calls for Israel to bomb Iran’s nuclear research facilities. Those comments caused backlash from Iran, which launched a cyber-attack on the Las Vegas Sands Corporation database.
Role in US Politics
Back in the United States, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson are GOP megadonors. After the Venetian Macau in China and the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore became the two most lucrative casinos in the world, Sheldon Adelson became the 8th-richest person in the world.
In the first national election after the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court case, Sheldon Adelson became the top donor to the Republican Party in 2012. He was a major contributor to GOP causes in the 2014 midterms, along with the top donor to the Trump campaign in 2016.
Sheldon and Miriam Adelson received a special skybox in Cleveland at the 2016 Republican National Convention, where they snubbed Sen. Ted Cruz on the night of his speech critical of Donald Trump. Later, the two would be nominated to the Trump Inauguration Committee. In the 2018 midterm election cycle, the Adelsons were the top donors to the GOP.
Craig Holmen Criticizes Choice
Miriam Adelson’s receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom received criticism from opponents of Donald Trump. Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen and a critic of Miriam Adelson’s inclusion, said of the 2018 inductee, “The Medal of Freedom has always been awarded based on service, as the award is intended.”
“Trump uniquely envisions government service as a business for self-enrichment, and so it comes as no surprise at all that Trump would award an otherwise honorable medal to Adelson on the grounds of who gives him the most money.”
While it looks bad for a president to give a Medal of Freedom to his top political donor, Miriam Adelson’s decades of philanthropy make her qualified for the award. A list of humanitarian and philanthropic recipients exist. One might say Miriam Adelson’s philanthropy does not measure up to other recipients like Brooke Astor or Bill Gates, but if you look at others on the 2018 list of inductees, Miriam Adelson’s philanthropy probably helped more Americans than Babe Ruth or Elvis Presley.
And while Donald Trump’s decision to give donors major awards can be criticized as crass or self-serving, he is not the first to single out people with similar political beliefs for the award. Barack Obama gave the award to Steven Spielberg, Robert DeNiro, and Tom Hanks — all three notable liberals. DeNiro had been critical of Donald Trump by the time he received the award in November 2016.
It has been argued that Miriam Adelson’s support of freedom focuses mainly on her home country of Israel, but support of Israel is well within the mainstream of American political thought. The list of recipients includes many non-Americans: Robert Conquest, Manlio Brosio, The 6th Baron Covington, and 15 different foreign statesmen (Anwar Sadar, Margarat Thatcher, Nelson Mandela). Controversial figures dot the list of recipients, including Robert S. McNamara, Whittaker Chambers, Cesar Chavez, and Paul Bremer. All in all, the addition of Miriam Adelson is justifiable, if controversial.