It was the 119th Louis D. Brandeis Award national dinner of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and the energy and passion in the room was palpable. Held at New York City’s Grand Hyatt Hotel, the array of honorees and speakers was impressive. Honorees included U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, and Senator Tom Cotton. Those who introduced honorees were VIPs, too. They included author and law professor Alan Dershowitz and Congressmen Lee Zeldin and Ron DeSantis.
Following a press conference led by ZOA President Morton Klein, the dinner began with stirring renditions of the U.S. and Israel national anthems. Next came video footage from the Nov. 8, 2017 Congressional hearing entitled “Moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem: Challenges and Opportunities.” Specifically, the footage shown was the forceful testimony of ZOA president Morton Klein, who testified alongside former UN Ambassador John Bolton, Dore Gold and Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich in support of moving the Embassy. Cong. Ron DeSantis chaired the hearing.
Once applause for his testimony subsided, Morton Klein delivered equally powerful in-person remarks. He began by noting how historic this Brandeis dinner was; ZOA was commemorating not only the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem but also ZOA’s 120th anniversary.
Reflecting on ZOA’s unique role in Zionist history, he mentioned Justice Brandeis’ little known but successful effort to obtain Pres. Woodrow Wilson’s support for the Balfour Declaration. He also noted that in the 1940s, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, as ZOA president, was among those leading the fight at the United Nations for the re-establishment of the Jewish homeland.
Moving on to more recent ZOA achievements, he spoke of ZOA’s success in 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. He also reminded everyone of ZOA’s successful efforts to oppose the appointments to high office of virulent anti-Israel figures.
Joe Lieberman and Morton Klein
Amb. Friedman with Mort Klein
Klein then debunked what he views as pervasive myths that undermine discussions about Israel beginning with what he terms the “alleged” holiness to Islam of Jerusalem. He pointed out that Jerusalem is not mentioned a single time in the Quran yet Zion and Jerusalem are referenced at least 700 times in the Hebrew Bible. He noted that Muslims pray toward Mecca not Jerusalem and never made Jerusalem their capital at any time during the centuries following the Muslim conquest. Further, he reminded the audience that Jerusalem degenerated into a backward slum under Jordanian rule during 1948-67.
Turning to the claim that Judea and Samaria are occupied by Israel, Klein noted that the territories belonged to no previous sovereign power and were earmarked for Jewish settlement after World War I. He pointed out that 98% of the Palestinian Arabs today live in the nearly half of Judea/Samaria and all of Gaza ceded to Palestinian Authority (PA) control and so live under their own regimes, with their own legislatures, police and military forces, schools, and institutions.
He then asked, “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 dispersion of the Jews after the Bar Kochba Revolt in the 2nd century?”
Shifting to modern Israel’s achievements in the face of hostility and war, Klein referenced Israel’s unique contributions to science and medicine, to agriculture and technology, and the fact that Israel produces more patents than Russia, India, and China combined.
“Who would have imagined in 1948, that Israel, then with 650,000 Jews and a mere 6% of world Jewry at the time, would today boast a Jewish population of nearly 7 million and almost half the global Jewish population,” he asked, “or 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?”
Klein ended his remarks this way: “With the help of Jews worldwide, Christian Zionists, and above all, the help of Almighty G-d, we will prevail over our enemies.” Thunderous applause ensued.
Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was also addressed by Ambassador Friedman in remarks he gave after receiving ZOA’s Shillman Award for Outstanding Diplomacy. Noting that the U.S. was the nation of his birth and Israel the nation of his faith, Friedman said, “being appointed U.S. Ambassador to Israel is the greatest honor of my life….Having the mandate from the President to strengthen the relationship of the U.S. and Israel is the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Referring to the shocking event at the UN last December, Amb. Friedman then said, “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.”
Asserting that “we have turned a page since the dark days of last December, Friedman said, “Gone are the days when 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 U.S. withdrew from UNESCO. With Nikki Haley, there is truly a new sheriff down the block in turtle Bay.” Plus, he added, “President Trump became the first sitting [U.S.] president to visit the Western Wall… and I was the first U.S. Ambassador to attend Yom Yerushalayim celebrations of Jerusalem’s reunification. I think we’re making progress.”
On the issue of Iran, Amb. Friedman said, “There is no daylight between the U.S. and Israel on ending the development of Iran’s nuclear arsenal and ending 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.”
And in case anyone doubted it, Friedman added, “The president has also made clear that he intends to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It’s not a question of if but when.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, who received the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson Defender of Israel Award, echoed Amb. Friedman’s remarks about the U.S.’s commitment to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear. “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,” he said. Cotton, who exposed the secret side deals with the international Atomic Energy Agency about the JCPOA, said he is working with Pres. Trump to change the Iran deal. “The U.S. can, if need be, totally destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.”
In emphasizing the importance of the U.S./Israeli joint effort regarding Iran, Sen. Cotton made this memorable remark. “Red, white and blue must stand beside blue and white. We are in this fight together.”
Earlier in the evening, former Sen.r Joe Lieberman became the first recipient of ZOA’s newly endowed Woo Kai-sheng Lifetime Achievement Award named for the famous Shanghai lawyer who, during WWII, gave Jewish refugees free legal advice and helped them obtain visas to come to the U.S. In accepting the award, Lieberman said “The Jewish state of Israel….has matured into a strong, diverse, vibrant, culturally rich nation….yet 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 to support and protect Israel. It is in that spirit of continuing responsibility that I accept this Award. Am Yisrael Chai.”
It was an inspiring night for someone lucky enough to be raised by two lifelong Zionists and ZOA Michigan leaders as I was. I’m referring, of course, to my parents, Dr. Israel Walter and Anne Gonte Silver, who are in my heart and thoughts whenever I’m at ZOA events. I figure they’re watching from heaven loving every minute of it all! Am Yisroel Chai!
Sheryl Silver is a former national officer of ZOA, founder of the Enough is Enough Initiative, and a lifelong Temple Israel member.
This article was published by the Detroit Jewish News and may be found here.