Sheldon Adelson
Sheldon Adelson

When Mitt Romney capped his trip to Israel with a speech in Jerusalem underscoring his commitment to the Jewish state, he was not just speaking to an assembled audience of Israelis.

Also present was Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino tycoon and ardent Zionist who has been a singular force in the 2012 presidential race. He and his wife Miriam sustained Newt Gingrich's presidential aspirations with more than $16 million in donations to political groups backing the former Speaker of the House, and since Gingrich's exit Adelson has transferred his support to Romney with a $10 million donation to the pro-Romney "Restore Our Future" Super PAC.

Mitt Romney spent much of his time in Israel meeting with members of the government, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and publicly underscoring his commitment to bolstering America's relationship with Israel and preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

But the trip doubled as a way to shore up support among fundraisers who are dissatisfied with President Obama's record on Israel and are betting on a Romney administration. Foremost among that group is Adelson, who has long been a prominent supporter of Israel.

Adelson has taken a hard line on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adamantly opposing a two-state solution and fiercely criticizing calls to increase economic aid to the Palestinians. He reportedly has a close relationship with Netanyahu and has bankrolled an Israeli publication, Israel Hayom, that is widely seen as aligned with Netanyahu.

He also had a years-long relationship with Gingrich that began, according to an account in the Washington Post, when Adelson traveled to Capitol Hill to lobby for a bill that would move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Moving the embassy would amount to an American endorsement of Israel's claim of sole authority over the holy city -- a position disputed by the Palestinians -- and Gingrich promised during his presidential campaign that, if elected, he would immediately sign an executive order moving the embassy.

Romney appeared to back that position during his Israel sojourn, saying that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and, in a followup interview with CNN, saying that "the policy of our nation has been a desire to move our embassy ultimately to the capital" in reference to Jerusalem.

During a private breakfast with top Jewish fundraisers at Jerusalem's famous King David hotel, Romney said that Israel's economy is more prosperous than that of the Palestinians in part because of the strength of Jewish culture. The comment drew a swift backlash from Palestinians.

"It is a racist statement and this man doesn't realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation," Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told the Associated Press, adding that "I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority."

Adelson, who was seated next to Romney when he made the comment, waded into a cultural controversy in December when he backed Gingrich's comment that the Palestinians are an "invented people."

"Read the history of those who call themselves Palestinians, and you will hear why Gingrich said recently that the Palestinians are an invented people," Adelson told Jewish youths visiting Israel. "There are a number of Palestinians who will recognize the truth of this statement."