WASHINGTON (JTA) — Miriam Adelson, the widow of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and a Republican kingmaker in her own right, loaned former Vice President Mike Pence a plane this week — affording him the kind of photo-ops that presidential contenders cherish.
Pence met in Israel with its prime minister and president, toured a settler enclave in the West Bank, and stopped on the way home in Ukraine to survey the devastation wrought by Russia’s war against the country.
Axios reported Thursday on Pence’s trip to Israel with his wife, Karen, on Adelson’s plane. If Pence decides to challenge Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, the loan of the plane might be a signal of the billionaire philanthropist’s inclinations ahead of the race. Accompanying Pence was Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition executive director who is close to Adelson.
Adelson, an Israeli-American who is a funder of an array of Jewish philanthropies, was a major backer of Trump in the last election, but she suggested last year at an RJC conference at her resort hotel in Las Vegas that it was time to move beyond the divisions that Trump stoked. Trump reportedly is close to deciding whether he will run again in 2024.
In addition to meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Yitzhak Herzog, Pence sat down for an interview with the Adelson-owned daily, Israel Hayom, in which he pledged to scrap any nuclear deal with Iran that Biden brokers. Scrapping the Iran deal was one of the bottom line litmus tests the Adelsons set for candidates who sought their backing in the past. Bennett, in a statement, said he discussed the Iran deal with Pence.
Pence posed for the requisite photos praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Pence also toured the settler enclave in Hebron for the kind of photos that are eye-candy for right-wing Jewish Americans and pro-Israel Christian Evangelicals who want Israel to annex the area.
Photos circulated of Pence chatting with Baruch Marzel, an extremist who once was associated with Kach, the far-right movement in Israel that the U.S. has designated as a terrorist group. That drew sharp attacks from the left in Israel and in the United States, but sources close to Pence said the former vice president did not plan for or invite the attention of Marzel, who lives in the settler enclave.
Brooks on Thursday posted on social media photos of Pence meeting refugees and troops in Ukraine.
Pence has been bolder in recent weeks in separating himself from Trump, signaling his interest in running for the top job in two years. He has directly rebuked Trump for the former president’s insistence that Pence had the power to upend the 2020 election and reinstall Trump, who lost. More recently, Pence denounced “apologists for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin”, which was also seen as a dig at Trump.
Pence was loyal to Trump throughout their term in office but was taken aback when Trump unleashed vitriol on him for refusing to take illegal steps to undo the election on Jan. 6, 2021, when Pence presided over Congress’ affirmation of Joe Biden’s presidential win. Some of the insurrectionists at the Capitol that day who shut proceedings down for several hours called for Pence to be hanged; a makeshift gallows was in place on Capitol grounds.