Over 1200 people attended the Zionist Organization of America’s (ZOA) 118th Louis B. Brandeis Award National Dinner on Sunday, November 20 at New York City’s elegant Grand Hyatt Hotel. Major ZOA donors provided tables for 255 student activists from various universities and colleges around the country.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, His Excellency Danny Danon, delivered the keynote address. Home Depot’s co-founder Bernie Marcus; Israel’s Minister for Education & Diaspora Affairs, Naftali Bennett; Harvard Law Professor Emeritus and best-selling defender of Israel Alan Dershowitz; and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Congressman Ed Royce (R–CA) all addressed the crowd, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Dinner by video. ZOA Board Member Dr. Alan Mazurek delivered the Dvar Torah. The YSTUDS and a Klezmer group provided entertainment.
ZOA’s Campus Managing Director Zach Stern and ZOA Board Member Myron Zimmerman presented the Myron Zimmerman Student Award. Michael Leven, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Georgia Aquarium and former President and Chief Operating Officer of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, presented the Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award to the distinguished businessman, philanthropist extraordinaire, and ardent and activist Zionist leader, Mr. Bernie Marcus.
Jim Tisch, Past Chair, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and CEO of Loews Corp presented the Mort Zuckerman Award for Outstanding Journalism to Professor Alan Dershowitz for his outstanding activism in the cause of Israel in books, TV, radio and columns in leading print and internet publications.
Entrepreneur Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot, major donor to NYU/Langone Hospital, a sought-after political analyst on various TV news programs presented the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson Award to Congressman Royce, who has been a spectacular friend of Israel on Capitol Hill.
Max Shillman, son of ZOA Board Member and entrepreneur Dr. Bob Shillman, Founder and Chairman of Cognex Corporation, presented the Dr. Bob Shillman Award for Outstanding Pro-Israel Diplomacy to Ambassador Danny Danon.
Naftali Bennett took the floor to extend greetings from the Government of Israel, speaking of Israel’s challenges and the ways it is meeting them, including the challenge being made to Israel’s legitimacy. He tested his audience with a riddle, quoting a statement about the Jews not having seized a foreign land, nor other people’s property, but having taken back the land from which it had been despoiled –– a quote from Simon the Hasmonean, over two thousands years ago –– challenging people to guess its author.
Mr. Bennett noted to general applause that “one cannot occupy his own home.” He noted how many leaders were repeating endlessly the same failed polices that have brought us to our present impasse, observing how, despite Israel by “doing everything by the book,” including massive territorial withdrawals, are facing a terrorist regime in Gaza that menaces Tel Aviv. Mr. Bennett noted that Israel is ‘the lighthouse in the storm of the Middle East,” even as the Arab Spring has degenerated into a Islamic winter, citing Israel’s tremendous building of ties across the world, including with far-flung India and China. He concluded, with the support of Jews around the world, like ZOA, “we will win.”
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein, described by ZOA National Chairman of the Board Dr. Michael Goldblatt in his introduction as the savior of a nearly-bankrupt and moribund ZOA 23 years ago and a “worthy heir of Begin and Jabotinsky,” jokingly thanked Dr. Goldblatt for delivering his introduction “exactly as [his] mother wrote it.”
Mr. Klein welcomed the audience to the “Academy Awards of the Jewish World” in introducing the honorees, also noting that this Brandeis Dinner was the “largest number of people attending a ZOA Dinner since the first Dinner in 1897; but it’s understandable, the speakers were Theodor Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.” Looking around at the throng the enthusiast activists, he noted, “If this group of committed Zionists had been around in the 1930s and 1940s, Jewish and perhaps world history might have looked far different … never again shall we be Jews of silence, never, never.”
Mr. Klein questioned how other Jewish organizations could now be silent while Israel-bashers like Congressman Keith Ellison, who has called Israel an “apartheid state,” worked for anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, and voted against Israel funding was being anointed Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Klein warned about the prospect of outgoing President Obama permitting the UN Security to pass a unilateral resolution supporting Palestinian statehood. He also dwelt on the increasing evidence of Iranian violations of last year’s nuclear deal with Iran, noting how Iran is making heavy water, testing new ballistic missiles and violating various aspects of the agreement that will enhance its ability to acquire nuclear weapons in the not-too-distant future.
Mr. Klein described the exceptional work being done by the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, Campus, Washington, and Israel Office divisions, before describing the infamous UNESCO resolutions erasing the Jewish history, connection and rights to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem, which, he noted, was mentioned nowhere in the Quran, as opposed to the hundreds of references to it in the Hebrew Bible. Mr. Klein recounted how Jerusalem had fallen into disrepair under Jordan’s 19-year illegal occupation, noting how it had often lacked proper running water and that no Arab leader, other than King Hussein, even visited the city during this period. He added, “In fact I’ll say it –– it is a propaganda myth that Jerusalem is holy to Muslims. It is not.”
Turning to the Israeli/Palestinian impasse, Klein noted that Israel has given away 40% of Judea/Samaria, all of Gaza, only to have received increased terrorist assault in return. He staunchly defended Israel’s right to intervene in PA territories on account of continuing terrorism, saying that the IDF could withdraw immediately from these areas if there was no threat to Israel and its civilians. Despite repeated offers of statehood to Palestinian Arabs –– in 1937, 1947, 2000 and 2008 –– there continues to be no Palestinian acceptance, as doing so would encompass recognizing the Jewish State of Israel and this they have continually refused to do.
Mr. Klein exposed the absurdity of those who blame Israel for lack of peace, throwing back at these accusers the lyrics of Bob Dylan, recently named for the Nobel Prize, for his song, ‘Neighborhood Bully’ quoting the opening lines:
“Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man / His enemies say he’s on their land / They got him outnumbered about a million to one / He got no place to escape to, no place to run / He’s the neighborhood bully. / The neighborhood bully he just lives to survive / He’s criticized and condemned for being alive / He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin / He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in / He’s the neighborhood bully. /The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land /He’s wandered the earth an exiled man /Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn / He’s always on trial for just being born / He’s the neighborhood bully.”
Building on the theme of Jewish solitude in opposition to the ideas and hatred of the world, Mr. Klein produced long list events and ideas in which the Jewish people defied world opinion, only to be shown as right — whether, about the singularity of G-d or the anti-Semitic ideas of Jews as ‘well-poisoners’ and consumers of ‘Gentile blood in matzahs’ — always with the refrain, “The whole world was wrong, we were right.”
Professor Dershowitz congratulated the ZOA as a “very great, great organization. He urged fighting anti-Semitic forces, regardless or whether they came from the left or right, noting that American liberals could learn a lesson from American conservatives who, to their credit, had marginalized Pat Buchanan’s fringe ideas and followers in the 1990s, showing “that there is no room for anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in American conservatism.” He also spoke of the efforts of some European far-right-wing figures to gain a certain respectability by dropping overt anti-Semitism while targeting other groups, like Muslims. “The Left in Europe and the United States is moving more left, and the Right is moving more right,” noting a number of comparable and even worse examples in Europe. He also noted the difficulties of defending Israel on university campuses. “I think these trends are troubling… Israel and Jews have historically always thrived at the center. We’ve always suffered between the extremes of right and left … between the black of fascism and the red of communism … we must be as stalwart in condemning bigotry among our friends as we are in condemning bigotry among our enemies.” He urged conservatives to come out against bigots on the right, just as he did with bigots on the left, saying, “It was very hard for me to come out against Black Lives Matters because, for me, black lives matter,” noting he had ceased all contact with them after they had adopted an anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic platform.
Professor Dershowitz turned to the new phenomenon of intersectionality, whereby diverse groups promoting left-wing causes adopt anti-Israel positions in order to make pro-Israel Jewish liberal participation impossible. He also praised ZOA, saying: “I think the ZOA is a great, great organization … There is no disagreement in Israel about how terrible the Iran agreement was … I have written to the President-elect telling him not to tear up the agreement but to rigorously enforce it, especially the deal’s preamble starting that Iran will never become a nuclear power and it must be the stated policy of the United States that this is an integral element of the deal and that the U.S. will never allow it to develop nuclear weapons. This is a consensus issue.”
Professor Dershowitz turned the issue of an “implied threat” from President Obama to support or permit a United Nations Security Council resolution to approve Palestinian statehood, saying that this would be “a horrible, horrible decision. It would be a horror from my liberal position, because if the UN gets involved in the peace process, it sends the message that the Palestinians need not compromise or negotiate because they will get a state through the UN. So it’s antithetical to peace. How dare a lame duck president try to change 30 years of American foreign policy, without any political accountability or any checks and balances? … Israel must always remain a bipartisan issue … I will fight to keep the Democratic Party pro-Israel. It won’t be easy. And it won’t be any easier if Keith Ellison is appointed the head of the DNC [Democratic National Committee] … I thank you for making the case for Israel.”
Mr. Langone spoke passionately about Congressman Royce’s tireless fight to close loopholes in legislation that enables the PA to continue to receive U.S. taxpayer funding despite its complicity in terrorism and incitement to hatred and murder of Jews.
Congressman Royce spoke movingly of his understanding of the Holocaust and the state of defenselessness from which the establishment of Israel has rescued the Jewish people after two millennia of exile and homelessness. He spoke of the importance of the U.S. standing by Israel through thick and thin, stating that, “for us, it’s not only a strategy necessity, it is also for us a moral imperative.” To that end, Congressman Royce outlined the efforts he has been spearheading in Congress to see military cooperation with Israel enhanced and the efforts to bring accountability to Mahmoud Abbas’ PA. Congressman Royce promised to fight the terrible BDS movement against Israel’s legitimacy. He also condemned the continuing PA practice of paying stipends to terrorists and spoke of his ongoing efforts to expose the terrible flaws in the Iran nuclear deal. “The US must cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority if it continues to pay monetary rewards to terrorists and their families.” Noting the PA practice of funding terrorist families and paying stipends to jailed Palestinian terrorists and generally rewarding and honoring terrorists, Congressman Royce said, “This pay-to-slay scheme has got to stop … Where the U.S. does not lead, we only embolden our enemies, including the enemies of Israel, the closest ally of the United States.” Congressman Royce also pledged to work closely with the incoming Trump Administration to combat the variety of anti-Israel forces seeking to harm and ultimately destroy Israel.
Ambassador Danny Danon commenced with ‘Hinei matov umanayim shevet achim gum yahad’ (‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity’), commending ZOA for its stalwart advocacy over the years on behalf of Israel’s rights. Ambassador Danon spoke in detail about Israel within the United Nations system, which has continuously singled out Israel for slander and condemnation, noting how even here, changes can be made which demonstrate to friend and foe that Israel will not permit itself to be ostracized and put in the pillory. Ambassador Danon recounted how he had recently convened within the walls of the UN a major international forum on the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to delegitimize Israel as a prelude to its isolation and eventual elimination. This conference –– in which the ZOA’s Klein had participated as one of the main speakers –– marks a first in the history of the UN, as does also Ambassador Danon’s election in June this year to chair the UN’s Legal Committee –– the first time an Israeli has been able to break through the unofficial blackballing of Israeli representatives when it comes to UN committee memberships. Ambassador Danon also noted that the Israeli mission to the UN works “very closely with the US Mission every single day at the UN” to forge a common strategy to ensure Israel isn’t singled out for opprobrium or unjustly targeted in resolutions of various UN committees.
Ambassador Danon concluded by singling out the ZOA for praise, noting that Israel could always rely on the ZOA to fight tenaciously and responsibly for Israel.
The Dinner Co-Chairs were Ken Langone and Michael Leven; Gary Erlbaum, President of Greentree Properties and Vice-President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, presided with grace and ease as emcee.