A crowd of 1,200 attended the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA)’s 119th Louis D. Brandeis Award National Dinner on Sunday, November 12, at New York City’s elegant Grand Hyatt Hotel. Amidst the night’s truly extraordinary list of VIPs, honorees included the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman; Senator Tom Cotton (R–AK), former Democratic Senator and Vice-Presidential Candidate Joseph Lieberman; Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard University Alan Dershowitz; CEO of Newsmax, Chris Ruddy; and Cong. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Cong. Lee Zeldin (R-NY); Former Chief strategist for the President, Steve Bannon. Over 150 student activists from various universities and colleges around the country attended.
Dinner guests were treated to footage of the past week’s hearings on Capitol Hill regarding moving the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in which the ZOA National President, Morton A. Klein, testified alongside former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, former Israeli Prime Ministerial Adviser and former UN Ambassador Dore Gold and leading international law authority Professor Eugene Kontorovich, in support of moving the Embassy.
Former Chair of the Conference of Presidents Kenneth Bialkin introduced Klein, noting that Louis D. Brandeis would have been proud of the vigor and force with which Mort Klein has led the organization. (Present Chair of the Conference of Presidents Steven Greenberg and past Chair Richard Stone also attended the ZOA Dinner, along with three members of Israeli Knesset.)
Klein took the podium, noting that this might be the “greatest superstar dinner of any Jewish organization in history that we’ve ever had, you’re all part of history. Welcome to the Academy Awards of the Jewish world,” while also observing that Jewish history might have looked very different if this sort of Jewish activism had existed in the 1930s.
Klein spoke about how rich with historical commemoration was this Dinner, noting that the ZOA was marking both the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and its promise of support for the restoration of the Jewish homeland, and the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem as well as the 120th anniversary the ZOA.”
Klein spoke of the ZOA’s long involvement in the thick of the fight for Zionism, often at times when other Jewish organizations would not take the lead, due to fear of charges of dual loyalties. He recounted Justice Louis Brandeis’s little-known but vital, successful effort to obtain the support for the Balfour Declaration of President Woodrow Wilson. Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was among those leading the fight, as ZOA President, at the United Nations in the late 1940s for the re-establishment of the Jewish homeland. Among Jewish organizations, only the ZOA, Klein reminded his audience, opposes a Palestinian state under current conditions or brings Jewish students to visit Jewish communities in Israel beyond the Green Line. Klein also recounted ZOA’s many successes over the years, including getting Congress and the Department of Education to change the interpretation of Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act to include Jewish students, not just students of other minorities, also filing lawsuits under Title 6 to protect Jewish students.
Klein also reminded his audience of the ZOA’s repeated, successful efforts in opposing the appointments to high office of virulent anti-Israel figures like Chas Freeman, who, but for ZOA action, would have headed the National Intelligence Directorate; John Roth, who would have been appointed head of research at the U.S. Holocaust Museum; Joseph Zogby, appointed adviser to then-National Security Council Middle East Adviser Martin Indyk, who resigned after three weeks, following a ZOA campaign highlighting his terrible anti-Israel record; and Salam Al-Marayati, who would have been appointed to the National Commission on Terrorism, but for the ZOA’s campaign alerting Congress to his support for terrorist groups and for Israel’s destruction.
Klein made a point of debunking the pervasive myths that bedevil discussion of Israel, such as the alleged holiness to Islam of Jerusalem or the non-existent “occupation” of Palestinian Arabs by Israel. Klein pointed out how Jerusalem rates not a single mention in the Quran, in contrast to the 700-odd references to Zion and Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible; that Muslims pray towards Mecca, not Jerusalem, never made Jerusalem their capital at any time during the centuries following the Muslim conquest, and how the city degenerated into a backward slum under Jordanian rule during 1948-67. Klein also queried why, if the land was truly Palestinian, why is it named ‘Palestine,’ which is not an Arabic name but in fact a Roman one, introduced to de-Judaize the land following the dispersion of the Jews following the Bar Kochba Revolt in the second century.
Klein also poured scorn on the absurd idea that Judea/Samaria are occupied by Israel, noting that the territories belonged to no previous sovereign power, was earmarked for Jewish settlement after World War One. He also noted that 98% of Palestinian Arabs today live in the nearly half of Judea/Samaria and all of Gaza ceded to Palestinian Authority (PA) control and live under their own regimes, with their own legislatures, police and military forces, schools and institutions. Klein reiterated that this had never been sovereign Palestinian land and that the ZOA is the only major Jewish organization to reject the fabrication about Israeli occupation.
Klein also recounted the miracle of modern Israel’s rise and astonishing achievements in the face of hostility and war, including its tremendous contributions to science and medicine, its weathering of the global 2008 recession unscathed, its high rate of economic growth and the remarkable fact that Israel produces more patents than Russia, India and China combined. Who would have imagined in 1948, asked Klein, that Israel then with 650,000 Jews and a mere 6% of the world Jewry at the time, would today boast a Jewish population of nearly 7 million and almost half the global Jewish population; that Biblical prophecy would have been borne out by the fact that much of Israel remained barren and wasteland until the Jewish people made it thrive again. And who would have imagined, asked Klein, that Israel would be the first country in history to bring black people to its shores, not as slaves, but to be free, flourishing people. Klein rounded off his address by quoting the Book of Joshua: “‘Be strong and of good courage.’ With the help of Jews worldwide, Christian Zionists, and above all, the help of Almighty G-d, we will prevail over our enemies.”
Next, Rabbi Kenneth Hain, Rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence, New York, the oldest Orthodox synagogue in Long Island’s Nassau county, introduced Iris and Shalom Maidenbaum, this year’s recipients of the ZOA’s Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award for their lifelong service to the welfare of Israel and its security, saying of them that they “have the imprint of Zionism in their DNA.” Both recipients spoke movingly of the familial influences on their lives in the service of Zionism.
Harvard University Professor of Law Emeritus Alan Dershowitz, a former Mort Zuckerman Award for Outstanding Journalism honoree, in introducing Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, observed that we live in increasingly dangerous times, with the left turning further left across America and Europe, exemplified in the latter case by Jeremy Corbyn’s ascendancy over the British Labour Party, and the universities campuses, where they peddle virulent anti-Israel polemics. He referred also to the radicalism of leftist movements, like Antifa and Black Lives Matter, the latter singling out Israel as a genocidal state. Conversely, one sees increasingly rabid anti-Semitism on the far right inside places as Poland, Slovakia and Hungary and even here in the US, where neo-Nazis like David Duke have obtained a following.
Professor Dershowitz noted that extremism of the left and right were detrimental to Jewish communities everywhere. He said that “we must remain bipartisan in defense of Israel, difficult as it might be, and Israel must remain a bipartisan issue. I remain a Democrat because I refuse to give up the Democratic party. I urge conservatives, who have made a much better job of ridding itself of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic voices, to work with centrist liberals for this.” He then turned to Chris Ruddy, holding him up as an excellent example of a centrist approach. “He can talk to centrist liberals and conservatives who understands both sides. He is brilliant, an influential adviser, businessman and speaker, who loves the nation state of the Jewish people. There could be nor more appropriate recipient of the Zuckerman Award … The one quality that shines above all others is that Chris is the personification of a mensch.”
Chris Ruddy praised the ZOA, referring to it being the very opposite of a summer patriot or soldier on behalf of Israel. “The ZOA works hard for a strong Israel and a strong America.” He also turned to praise Alan Dershowitz for his heroism is standing up to left-wing haters of Israel: “he is a hero, whose invitations have disappeared in left-circles because he speaks the truth … I’m a Roman Catholic, a Christian Zionist … We need a media that is genuinely fair and balanced, that gives Israel’s side of the story … My mission as a journalist has always been to give the public the facts and information they’re not getting elsewhere. We know that Israel is under threat for its very survival from Iran and we must be united in supporting our president to protect Israel.”
Mort Klein then introduced Myron Zimmerman, whom he described as a behind-the-scenes visionary, who presented the Myron Zimmerman Award for Outstanding Campus Activism, along with Leore Ben David, Managing Director of ZOA Campus Affairs, to two inspiring social media warriors for Israel, former IDF soldier Nathan Benchimol, and Heather Alpert, who works to combat Jewish exclusion from the feminist movement being engineered by radical Israel-haters and terrorist supporters like Linda Sarsour.
Mort Klein then introduced Dr. Bruno Wu who, together with his wife, founded Seven Stars Media Group, one of the leading entertainment media investment companies in Asia, which has a presence in ten major cities. Dr. Wu has generously endowed the Woo Kai-sheng Lifetime Achievement Award, named after his grandfather, an extraordinary humanitarian giant and friend of the Jewish people who, before and during World War Two, when Jews had almost no-where in the world to flee from the Nazi ascendency and onslaught, worked overtime to rescue Jews fleeing Europe, helping them to reach safe haven in Shanghai. Angered by the monstrous Nazi persecutions, Wu helped Jews obtain asylum, utilized his extensive contacts, as the most famous lawyer in Shanghai, with government officials and diplomats to obtain residence permits and papers of all kinds, and gave Jewish refugees free legal advice and even used his own money to help them. When the Japanese occupied Shanghai during their 1937 invasion of China, Wu helped Jews obtain visas to come to the U.S.
Mort Klein then introduced former Democratic Senator and vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, the first recipient of the ZOA’s Woo Kai-sheng Lifetime Achievement Award for fighting for Israel and the Jewish people. A former Connecticut Attorney-General who had distinguished himself in a 24-year career in the Senate as a man of principle, Joseph Lieberman, said Klein, was an “unrelenting friend of Israel and a voice of sanity.” He reminded the audience how then-Senator Lieberman, in the teeth of tremendous opposition from within his own party, stood firm in support of President George W. Bush’s surge in Iraq, understanding that we could not allow the country to be handed over to America’s enemies. Klein also recounted how Lieberman had delivered a powerful refutation of then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s disingenuous argument in support of the Iran nuclear deal at a meeting of Jewish leaders which Klein had attended.
Joseph Lieberman commenced by saying that “I observe about Mort Klein that, the older he gets in years, the younger he gets in energy and passion. May you live to at least the age of the ZOA — 120.” Speaking of the honor conferred upon him in receiving this award in the name of Woo Kai-sheng, Lieberman said that the ZOA, “the first pro-Israel American political organization,” understood from its inception that, without involvement and influence in American politics, “they would never be able to re-establish a Jewish state… The Jewish state of Israel … has matured into a strong diverse, vibrant, culturally rich nation … This is the lesson I take: there is no guarantee that the Jewish state will continue to exist; it will only do so if people like those in this room and around the world work together support and protect Israel. It is in that spirit of continuing responsibility that I accept this Award. Am Yisrael Chai –– the Nation of Israel lives and will live with our help and G-d’s help forever.”
ZOA Activist Dr. Bob Shillman, Founder and Chairman of Cognex Corporation, the world’s leading supplier of machine vision systems, presented David Friedman with the Dr. Bob Shillman Award for Outstanding Diplomacy, praising him as someone who always “speaks forthrightly and honestly about complex events, someone who speaks plainly and truthfully of obstacles that must be overcome for peace.” He also noted how David Friedman had attracted headlines for correctly speaking of Israel’s “alleged occupation” of the Palestinian Arabs.
David Friedman spoke of being “truly honored to be part of ZOA’s star line-up, adding that “being appointed U.S. Ambassador to Israel is the greatest honor of my life … the U.S., the nation of my birth and citizenship, is simply the greatest and most successful experiment in self-governance that the world has ever seen.… For the Jewish people, with very few and unfortunate exceptions, the U.S. has offered safe haven and boundless opportunity… Israel is the nation of my faith, the land of the Holy Bible, where Jewish history began and where Jewish history continues to be made as the only democracy and America’s closest ally in the Middle East.… Support for Israel is a quintessential American value.… Having the mandate from the President to strengthen the relationship of the U.S. and Israel is the opportunity of a lifetime. We came into office on the heels of perhaps the greatest betrayal of Israel by a sitting President in American history — the failure of the U.S. to veto United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. Imagine a resolution stating that the Western Wall is illegally occupied territory. Unthinkably, the U.S. abstained and allowed that resolution to pass. A day later, the Secretary of State’s attempts to justify this outrage only compounded the problem. It was a stunning rejection of America’s most important Middle Eastern ally. We have turned a page since the dark days of last December. Gone are the days whee the UN bashes Israel with impunity. When UNESCO denied Jewish connection to Jerusalem and Hebron, the result this time was different from the past — the US withdrew from UNESCO. With Nikki Haley, there is truly a new sheriff down the block in Turtle Bay.… President Trump became the first sitting president in history to visit the Western Wall, a visit that resonated throughout the Middle East. And I was the first U.S. Ambassador to attend Yom Yerushalayim celebrations of Jerusalem’s reunification. I think we’re making progress.”
Turning to the joint U.S./Israeli interest in preventing Iran from going nuclear and spreading its power across the Middle East, David Friedman said, “There is no daylight between the U.S. and Israel on ending the development of Iran’s arsenal and endings its sponsorship of rogue regimes. We are committed to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but never in a way that would jeopardize the security of Israel. Judea/Samaria must never become another failed experiment, like what we saw in the Gaza Strip.… You will never hear the President make the case, as his predecessor did, that there is some symmetrical relationship between building a house in the town of Halamish and the murder of a Jewish family in Halamish at a Shabbat table. There is no equivalence whatsoever. The President has also made clear that he intends to move the embassy for Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It is not a question of if, but of when.”
U.S. Congressman Lee Zeldin (R–NY) introduced former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, noting his service in the Navy and his success as a businessman and media mogul who “played such a role in bringing the 45th President into the White House.… He is someone who bleeds red, white and blue.” He recounted how Bannon had responded to the query of whether he was at the White House at the time of PA dictator Mahmoud Abbas’ visit to Washington by saying that “‘I refuse to be there, refuse to breathe the same air as that Jew-hating terrorist.’ Steve Bannon is a friend of Israel and a friend of Judaism.”
Steve Bannon took the floor, recounting how Donald Trump’s victory would not have happened without Sheldon Adelson and how, even when Trump had been down by double digits in the campaign for the presidency, Adelson offered wise advice and counsel: “his guidance and wisdom got us through.” Bannon recounted how, in the first 10 months of the Trump presidency, core promises had been kept or acted upon, destroying the Islamic State (IS) caliphate, convening the Arab/Muslim summit to unite the region against IS and also for the purpose of stopping the game of financing radical Islamic terror and working to moderate and modernize Islam. Turning to Mort Klein. Bannon added, “I don’t think we’ve had a more dangerous time, Mort. You are unapologetic about the defense of the State of Israel. There are so many games being played by the establishment — that’s how we ended up with the Iran deal, that’s how we ended up with the government financing those who have Jewish blood on their hands, with the establishment just tapping along.… I believe the only way to act is to fight, I’m a fighter, proud to stand with the State of Israel, proud to be a Christian Zionist and proud to be a supporter of the Judeo-Christian West.”
Mort then took pleasure in “introducing one of the very greatest friends of Israel in the entire Congress,” Congressman Ron DeSantis (R–FL), reminding people that it was Congressman DeSantis who had chaired the House hearings the previous week in which Klein had testified on moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Congressman DeSantis, who is running to be Governor of Florida in 2018, commenced by saying that “we need to make good on our promises to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.… We need to make this official: there should be no taxpayer money going to a Palestinian entity that funds terrorism. To this end, we have to pass the Taylor Force Act.” Congressman DeSantis noted the anti-Israel obsession within the UN, noting that fully 20 of its previous 24 resolutions had been anti-Israel ones. He also called for the repeal of Security Council Resolution 2334 and said that the U.S. should not fund the UN until it is repealed. He then condemned the BDS movement, staying that “we have to snuff out BDS, here and around the world … Don’t let the State Department discriminate against Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria; it’s not occupied territory.” Congressman DeSantis also called upon the Trump Administration to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization.
In presenting Senator Cotton with the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson Defender of Israel Award, Congressman DeSantis quipped that, “although he graduated from Harvard, he has a lot of good sense.” He noted that Senator Cotton has taken the lead on opposing the Iran nuclear deal, observing that Iran was also responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American servicemen in Iraq. He also slammed the “genius idea” of the Corker/Cardin framework, which had enabled the Obama Administration to consider the Iran deal other than as a foreign treaty requiring Senate approval, permitting a vote on the deal to be filibustered.
Senator Cotton said he was “proud to share this platform with the one and only Mort Klein,” and that he was humbled to receive an award named for the Adelsons, with their extraordinary record of philanthropy and support for Israel. Speaking of the U.S./Israeli relationship, Senator Cotton said that “this friendship is no mere accident of history, or merely the result of common interests, which we share with others. It also stems from the Puritan tradition, from our reverence for the Bible. That is why there has been a special bond between the U.S. and the Jews even before there was an Israel. Americans don’t feel threatened by the Jewish heritage and success, unlike the Old World. Here, you don’t have to abandon your heritage to be a loyal American. The freedom to be a Jew here causes Jews to love America even more. Jews have embraced this country with the zeal of a convert. It would be hard to imagine America today without the Jewish people … Israel has resumed its rightful place among the nations of the world… Israel is and always will be the home of the Jewish people.… While we have much to celebrate about the Balfour Declaration, it did not create the Jewish state. G-d promised that land to the Jewish people and that land includes Judea and Samaria. Jews are called Jews because they are from Judea.… It is an honor to receive your award for being along with you a defender of Israel.” Turning finally to his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, Senator Cotton said, “There must never be a nuclear armed Iran, which is willing to lose millions of lives to wipe out Israel, which they declare with slogans on their missiles to be their aim. That’s why I wrote a letter to the Ayatollah saying a future president will not support this foolhardy deal. It’s why I also exposed the secret side deals with International Atomic Energy Agency and am working with the President to change this deal…. The U.S. can, if need be, totally destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.… Who can look at the history of our two nations and not see the hand of providence guiding our hand? Zion will prevail and freedom will not perish from this Earth.”
At the Dinner, Michael Lington, the internationally famous Danish-American saxophonist, gave a brilliant, jazzy, yet dignified, rendition of the U.S. National Anthem, before accompanying the Ariel Singers from the largest 22,000 strong Jewish community in Judea/Samaria in their inspirational rendition of Hatikvah. During the Dinner, videos were screened showing ZOA’s Klein testifying on Capitol Hill in support of moving the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and also one showing the huge distribution of Mishloach Manot by ZOA to serving Israeli soldiers in uniform. Rita Cosby, the famed television news anchor and correspondent, radio host, best selling author and currently a Special Correspondent for the CBS syndicated program ‘Inside Edition,’ did a memorable job as the evening’s emcee. On a personal note, Cosby spoke movingly at one point during the Dinner of the Nazi genocide against the Jews in Poland, which her father witnessed and many of whose victims he tried to help at the risk of his life. Board Member Dr. Alan Mazurek delivered a moving Dvar Torah. Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chairman and CEO, and passionate supporter of Israel and Jewish causes, Sheldon Adelson and his wife Dr. Miriam Adelson, tendered a message of regret for being unavoidably unable this year to attend the Brandeis Dinner, speaking of their pride in the work of Mort Klein and the ZOA. Mort Klein also thanked the ZOA staff who had worked tirelessly for the success of the Dinner.