Sheldon G. Adelson, the billionaire casino owner who has emerged as one of the largest Republican donors, filed a $60 million libel lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday against the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), saying the group had falsely accused him of condoning prostitution in his Macau casino properties.
The NJDC published an article on its Web site in July urging Mitt Romney and other Republicans not to accept Adelson’s contributions because he “reportedly approved of prostitution.”
The accusation, which Adelson and officials at his company, Las Vegas Sands, have denied, stems from a continuing lawsuit against Adelson by a former Sands executive, Steven C. Jacobs, who alleged in court papers filed in June that company officials had sanctioned prostitution at its Macau casino.
Adelson’s lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, names the Jewish council as well as two of its officials, David A. Harris and Marc R. Stanley. It seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages, The New York Times reported.
In the court document, Adelson's attorneys wrote the mogul has been the subject of "public hatred, contempt, scorn and ridicule."
“Defendants’ goal was to advance their perceived political interests by assassinating Mr. Adelson’s character, punishing him for exercising his right to make monetary contributions to political causes and candidates of his choice, and demeaning him within the Jewish community,” the lawsuit alleges.
In a statement, the NJDC said it would fight the lawsuit.
“We will not be bullied into submission, and we will not be silenced by power,” the statement read. “This is not Putin’s Russia, and in America, political speech regarding one of the most well-known public figures in our country is a fundamental right. One would think the person making greatest use of the Citizens United ruling would understand this.”
“To be sure, referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures—as we did—is wholly appropriate. Indeed, it is both an American and a Jewish obligation to ask hard questions of powerful individuals like Mr. Adelson, just as it is incumbent upon us to praise his wonderful philanthropic endeavors,” the statement continued.
Jonathan Tobin of Commentary Magazine argues that, “there is a not so fine line between criticizing a public figure and spreading allegations that he is involved in prostitution. There was plenty of room for them to take shots at Adelson without using a palpably false smear.”
The “NJDC shouldn’t be dragging Judaism into this sordid fight they’ve started. Far from it being a specifically Jewish obligation to raise such issues, there is actually a specific religious prohibition against this sort of libel,” Tobin continues. “Indeed, if there is anything that defines the concept of lashon hara or ‘evil tongue’ — the provision in Jewish religious law against defamatory speech — it is calling a political opponent a pimp. For them to claim there was any such duty to smear him in this manner makes a mockery of Judaism.”
A similar accusation against Adelson was leveled in recent weeks by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. However, the group published a formal apology and retraction on Friday after Adelson threatened to take legal action.