The ZOA is the oldest pro-Israel organization in the United States founded in 1897. Past presidents include Louis Brandeis, Rabbis Stephen Wise and Abba Hillel Silver. Morton A. Klein, who was chosen as one of the five most important Jewish leaders in America by the Jewish weekly The Forward, now serves as National President. Mr. Klein presented the Award to Mr. Adelson.
The Herzl Award was presented at a Gala Dinner in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Sunday night, December 13, 2009. There were 700 people in attendance.
In presenting the Award, Mr. Klein reminisced about the years in which he had come to know him, about the love and devotion he had personally witnessed between Sheldon and his wife Miriam. He recounted how, at various Jewish organizational meetings, Mr. Adelson had supported his statements and vice versa on various occasions where the two of them were in a distinct minority in their skepticism of Oslo and dealing with Arafat during the 1990s. This had cemented their friendship and mutual respect. Klein described Adelson as a visionary, possessing a mastery of facts and brilliance in analyzing complexities: in the proper sense of the term, he is a genius. He noted the Adelsons munificent philanthropy on behalf of the Birthright Israel program, to which they have over the years devoted $90 million. If I had given $90 million to Birthright that would have almost completely wiped me out joked Klein, to high applause.
Mr. Adelson spoke movingly of his parents and their experiences, his very modest upbringing and the many challenges he and his wife have faced over the years as well as the ideals that animate their extraordinary support for Israel. I am honored to receive this award. It is the highest award I have ever been given. I am the eighteenth recipient of this rare honor and I like it that 18 stands for chai (life). He also reminisced about his fathers deep affection for Zionism and Israel and how he inculcated deep values about the Jewish people and Zionism as well as the values upon which America was founded.
Mr. Adelson movingly told the story of his wearing of his late fathers shoes when he first went to Israel, so that his late father could in some sense fulfill his unrealized Zionist dream of walking on the holy land of Eretz Yisrael. He also said, I believe in the Liberty Bell and what it represents. Speaking of Mort Klein, Mr. Adelman said, Mort has never let political correctness shackle his advocacy. I see it as my job to support and protect Mort. If anyone wants to take him down, they have to go through me first. Of his profound sense of awe upon receiving the Herzl Medallion, he said, I am humbled by the people who have received it before me and that it comes from the oldest Zionist organization in the world.
Mr. Klein said, Were here tonight to recognize Mr. Sheldon Adelson for his gigantic Jewish heart and soul, for his unwavering love of and commitment to Israel and the Jewish people, for his relentless efforts and energies on behalf of the Jewish state, and for his being one of the greatest Zionists in the world today. The Adelson Jewish/Israel philanthropy programs and projects include the Birthright program which has brought over 200,000 young Jewish Americans to Israel; Holocaust remembrance; helping underprivileged Jews stay in special schools in Israel; establishing day schools in Las Vegas and Boston; funding Israeli hospitals and Jewish organizations such as the ZOA; and sponsoring U.S. congressional trips to Israel.
Mr. Sheldon Adelson and his partner in life, his wife Dr. Miriam Adelson live and breathe the spirit of Zionism. They are always thinking about what will make the greatest impact to benefit Israel and the Jewish people and how they can make that happen. If there is one word that I would use to describe you, Mr. Sheldon Adelson, it would not be businessman or even philanthropist, it would be Zionist.
Past recipients of this Herzl Gold Medal include such historic and legendary figures as Lord Balfour, Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir.
Mr. Sheldon Adelson you now and forever join this august group of Zionist giants.
Just as Herzl was a visionary so are you, Mr. Adelson. Just as he was a trail-blazer unfurling the flag of political Zionism, so are you Mr. Adelson.
Just as Herzl met with Monarchs and Prime Ministers and Presidents to promote Zionism and Israel, so do you Mr. Adelson.
Just as he was inspired to fight against anti-Semitism because of the Dreyfus Affair in France you are committed to fight the radical Islamist Jihadist enemy of the Jews and the West.
Your whole life has exemplified Jewish courage, Jewish pride, and Jewish confidence.
You are a Jewish Patriot and a proud advocate of the Zionist Dream.
Dr. Miriam Adelson received ZOAs Louis D. Brandeis Award. She spoke with deep affection for her parents, coming from differing Jewish backgrounds in Poland, how they had made British-controlled Palestine their home before the Holocaust, which had been a savior for her immediate family. She spoke with passion for the many Jewish and other humanitarian causes, especially drug rehabilitation, which have been the object of her devoted efforts over the years. She also thanked ZOA for the unique position it occupies among American Jewish organizations in fighting for truth and Israels honor.
In bestowing this prestigious award on Dr. Adelson, Morton Klein said, This award is to recognize all youve done done effectively and magnificently to promote the enhancement of Jewish life in America and in Israel, and to reduce suffering for all humankind. Dr. Adelson, as a full partner in all the Adelson Family pro-Israel philanthropic activities, we salute you as a genuine Jewish heroine. Past recipients of the Brandeis Award include Vice President Joe Biden, Abba Eban, Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Elizabeth Taylor, Mort Zuckerman, Natan Sharansky, and Simon Wiesenthal.
Executive Vice-Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein introduced Prime Minister Netanyahus video address.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by video from Israel, praising Sheldon Adelson as the most committed Zionist I have ever known. He also praised the ZOA for speaking the truth to power and never allowing political correctness to interfere with their pro-Israel positions, adding, When I think of ZOA, I think of an organization that refuses to compromise on the truth regardless of prevailing fashion and no matter what the costs may be.
In introducing Vice-Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon, ZOA Board Member Henry Schwartz spoke of General Yaalons more than 40 years illustrious career in the IDF, his masterminding the counter-offensive against Palestinian terror, Operation Defensive Shield, and his absolute integrity. Noting that his position as IDF chief-of-Staff had not been extended, as is customary, because of Yaalons opposition to the Gaza withdrawal, Mr. Schwartz said, He was willing to pay a personal price to prevent a national mistake.
Deputy Prime Minister Yaalon said, It is a great honor to be here to address the ZOA, which supports Israels struggle to secure Israel from the hostility of enemies who wish to see it swept from the map I want to thank you for your support We do not compromise on the right of Jews to live in any part of Eretz Yisrael. We do not accept that Arabs can live anywhere, whereas Jews may not live in some parts of Eretz Israel.
General Yaalon observed that some might wonder if it would have been a better use of his time to address hostile or undecided audiences but to this idea he replied, It is much more important to speak to a home crowd like you whole volunteer to support wholeheartedly the security and integrity of Israel I am here to thank the ZOA it leaders, members and supporters for your tremendous support.
Turning to the challenges Israel faces in the international arena, Yaalon said, The Goldstone Report is the most evident example of a new blood libel. We must fight it we dont have the luxury of losing the high ground. As to Israels strategic dangers with which he deals daily, Hamas and Hizballah do not lose a moment to build up their weapons and plan new attacks against us. Hamas has now got Iranian rockets with a 60 kilometer range enough to hit Tel Aviv. But above all he pointed to the threat posed by Iran developing nuclear weapons: The nuclear project of Iran must be stopped. He also addressed the fundamental need for reforming Palestinian society before there could be any prospect of peace, saying, It was an illusion to believe that Oslo can be continued while Palestinians children are educated from birth for extremism and hatred. Thank you for your support. Together, we will prevail.
Mr. Martin Gross, president of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, introduced Minority Whip Eric Cantor. Congressman Cantor said, that he was thrilled to be addressing ZOA dinner. He called on the Jews of the Diaspora to rally around the Jews of Eretz Yisrael. Of ZOA, he said, There has been one consistent voice ZOA. ZOA has never wavered in trying to make sure that U.S. Israel relations are at the forefront of our national strategy.
Congressman Cantor quoted documentary filmmaker Claude Lanzmann who, when asked why he made his acclaimed documentary, Shoah, replied that he wanted to find the answer to the question: At what point did it become too late? Congressman Cantor then asked, So when is it too late? When Hamas is celebrated internationally? When the Goldstone report attempts to strip Israel of its legitimate right of self-defense? When a Swedish newspaper libels Israel for allegedly harvesting the organs of Palestinians? When a Turkish TV series depicts Israelis as murderers? When Venezuelas Hugo Chavez welcomes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, condemns Israel and persecutes Venezuelan Jews? Regarding the existential threat posed to Israel by an Iran that obtains nuclear weapons, Cantor urged people to reflect, When someone points a gun at you, believe what they say. He said that Israels security is synonymous with our own. Congressman Cantor concluded by saying, ZOA has always been in the forefront of our struggle and you must continue the fi.ght. I look forward to your continued leadership Mort, before it is too late.
In introducing the Cherna and Irving Moskowitz Award recipient, Robert Guzzardi, Cherna Moskowitz said that Irving I feel it is a great privilege to be associated with ZOA.
Sandra Stein, a ZOA Board member and attorney, introduced Jeff Jacoby, the distinguished Boston Globe columnist. In accepting the Ben Hecht Award for Journalism, Mr. Jacoby noted with awe some his distinguished predecessors as recipients of this award. He praised the efforts of ZOA over the decades saying, ZOA is invaluable with more than a century-long fighting spirit and, as in olden days, battling the Hellenists in our midst but, thank G-d, weve always had our Maccabees. Previous recipients of the Ben Hecht Award for Journalism have included A.M. Rosenthal, Daniel Pipes, Cal Thomas and Caroline Glick.
Dinner Emcee Gary Erlbaum, a leader in the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia and former National Chairman of Young Leadership for Israel Bonds, in introducing Morton A. Klein, referred to the Wall Street Journal as having named ZOA as heroic and the most credible advocate for Israel on the American Jewish scene today. Mr. Erlbaum said that if theres one person in the universe who will say that the Emperor has no clothes, its Mort Klein. He also quipped, Eric Cantor must be breathing a sigh of relief that Mort Klein isnt running for President.
In his address, ZOA President Morton Klein spoke of ZOAs unique place in the spectrum of American Jewish organizations, noting that We were the only major American Jewish group to warn against the Oslo accords, against dealing with Arafat, Abbas and the Gaza withdrawal Mahmoud Abbas promises are as phony as Bernie Madoffs. At the time of Oslo, ZOA refused to be part of this political Ponzi scheme, with its glitter, excitement and promises of a rosy future What sort of a peace process is it that, instead of jailing terrorists, Mahmoud Abbas demands the release of terrorists? If you truly want peace, you lock up terrorists. He also cited Abbas repeated rejection of Israel as a Jewish state, his open defense of Palestinian terrorism at Fatahs recent conference, along with Fatahs refusal to accept an end of claims in any future agreement that might be signed and its intention to forge a closer relationship with the Iranian regime. Klein noted how the PA, the recipient of enormous aid from the U.S. and other countries, used little of this money for building schools, courthouses and infrastructure to benefit their people, but rather spends it all on weapons and bombs.
Klein noted the hypocrisy of the European Union (EU)s stance in support of setting up a Palestinian state, noting that the EUs own conditions of membership would preclude a country resembling the PA, in its lack of stability and protection of human rights and minorities, from becoming a member. Yet the EU was proposing that Israel help turn the PA into a terror state on its border. He said, Palestinian statehood will not bring peace. Syria, Iran and North Korea are all states. Are they peaceful and lovely? Klein also pointed to the anomaly of an Obama Administration foreign policy that stresses modesty, humility and not dictating to other countries and how this applies everywhere, including countries like Syria, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, but not when it comes to Israel. Here, Klein noted, the Obama Administration demands that Israel stop Jews moving into Judea and Samaria. So slanted is this policy that it has met with criticism from even liberal legislators like Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA). In this connection, Klein also cited diverse authorities like former International Court of Justice head, Justice Stephen Schwebel, and State Department official and former Yale Law School Dean Eugene Rostow on the legality of Israels claim to be in Judea and Samaria.
Klein turned his attention to some of ZOAs achievements and areas of endeavor in the past year, noting that We were the only group to lobby on Capitol Hill against the appointment of Chas. Freeman to the National Intelligence Council. Freeman was and is a vicious Israel-basher. The ZOAs Washington office, headed by Dan Pollak and Josh London, had worked tirelessly on Capitol Hill against the Freeman appointment. Mort noted that Freeman himself went on CNN to tell Fareed Zakaria that it was indeed ZOA who was responsible for derailing his appointment. He quoted Freemans own estimate of the role ZOA played, as he put it to Zakaria, the ZOA organized a campaign
This morning, indeed, there were various postings by the organizations that organized the campaign, the Zionist Organization of America, for example, detailing, setting out in considerable detail how they organized, researched to find [sic] material that they could use to agitate first Congressmen who were sympathetic to them and later others on various issues. Mort noted that articles in the Washington Post and New York Times highlighted ZOAs role in Freemans withdrawal from that appointment.
Klein also singled out the work of ZOAs Center for Law and Justice, headed by Susan B. Tuchman, and the invaluable work it has done to defend Jewish students from harassment and vicious Israel-bashing on various university campuses, including University of California at Irvine. ZOA repeatedly wrote to officials at UC Irvine, raising concerns about whether the Muslim Student Union, a registered student group at UC Irvine, solicited funds on campus in violation of University policy and used the campus as a base for fundraising for the terrorist group Hamas in violation of federal law. Mort also spoke of ZOA, with its Campus division, headed by Josh Nason, being the only Jewish organization with campus programs that bring Jewish students to Israel, including to Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights. He spoke of the ZOAs Israel office headed by Jeff Daube, and its work in the media through op-eds and letters, and with a range of Knesset members, journalists and other groups to advance the causes espoused by ZOA. Klein also commended the work of the ZOAs Center for Middle East Policy, headed by Dr. Daniel Mandel. He also thanked the entire ZOA office for its hard work in organizing the Dinner.
Klein pointed to the fact that ZOAs activities continue to be constantly noted by our opponents, including Stephen Walt, co-author with John Mearsheimer of the vicious anti-Israel lobby tract, writing recently in Foreign Policy; and by James Zogby of the Arab-American Institute, who has written that ZOA changes the minds of members of Congress and the media. ZOA has risen like a phoenix if we dont stop them theyll win, to which Mort added, Yes, Mr. Zogby, we will win.
The sons of Michael Orbach, a member of ZOAs Board, made the blessing over the bread, while renowned rabbi, author and TV host Rabbi Shmuley Boteach delivered a rousing Invocation and lit the Chanukah candles.
The Dinner was co-chaired by Mr. James S. Tisch, CEO of Loews Corp., and former Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the top post in the organized American Jewish organizational world; and by Mr. Irwin Chafetz, Director of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and long-time personal friend of Mr. Adelson.
Dinner Tribute Committee members include Ken Abramowitz, Ed Ames, Morrie Amitay, Gary Bauer, Ken Bialkin, Michael Bohnen, Ambassador John Bolton, Shoshana Cardin, Midge Decter, Douglas Feith, Stephen Flatow, Frank Gaffney, Ambassador Dore Gold, Martin Gross, Malcolm Hoenlein, Richard Joel, Hon. Ed Koch, Andrew Lappin, Ronald Lauder, Michael Leven, Nathan Lewin, Dr. Marty Peretz, Daniel Pipes, Jon Podhoretz, Norman Podhoretz, Lester Pollack, Seymour Reich, Ingeborg & Ira Rennert, Governor Mitt Romney, Mel Salberg, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Neal Sher, Jack Stein, Jonathan Tobin, Marion & Elie Wiesel, Professor Ruth Wisse, Fred S. Zeidman, Mortimer B. Zuckerman.