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Lewis sat at a small table with a few younger men. A bit of something amber sat in a glass in front of him. Hunched but sharp, the old professor was kept company, but the guests seemed to be affording him a respectful distance.
Lewis’s disciple, Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese-born professor at Stanford, took on the reception duties usually performed by the honoree. Later, during his lengthy toast to Lewis, Ajami offered advice on how to address his distinguished mentor. “Don’t call him Bernie,” he said. “That is completely out.”
Whatever kept the crowd of hundreds at bay from Lewis didn’t deter Kovner, who strode directly to his table. Once called “George Soros’s right-wing twin” in a New York magazine headline, Kovner is also a major Jewish donor to Mitt Romney’s super PAC. The elegant woman on Kovner’s arm bent to kiss the old don.
Kissinger and Zuckerman gathered for a photo op with Lewis directly before the meal. Kissinger, now 89, hid his cane behind his back as a battery of photographers let loose on the group.
During the photo availability, two young journalists from what they said was an “independent” outlet asked Kissinger about a study he directed in the 1970s on Third World population growth. Kissinger told them to “go to hell,” the reporters later told the Forward.
Kissinger was only a bit more receptive to a question from the Forward later in the evening about a recent clash between Netanyahu and the Obama administration over the U.S. attitude toward a military strike on Iran.
“I think Israel and the United States should come to an agreement about the direction they’re going,” Kissinger said. “They don’t have to announce it, but they should have an agreement.” He then seemed to pause, but in fact was done speaking.
Wolfowitz, intercepted on his way to dinner, was similarly monosyllabic, saying that he “thinks” that there is “logic” to the notion of setting so-called red lines that would trigger a military strike if Iran were to cross them.
Lewis was far more forthcoming. “I don’t think it’s the right answer,” he said when asked about a military strike on Iran. “We should do what we can to help the Iranian opposition. We could do a lot to help them and we’re not doing a damn thing, as far as I know.
“Iran is a great nation with a long and glorious history,” Lewis said. “When we say things like, ‘Iran must not have nuclear weapons,’ imagine how an Iranian patriot would react to that. What we mean is the gang of genocidal maniacs who are now dishonoring the name of Iran must not have nuclear weapons. I think we should make it quite clear that our hostility is not against Iran but against, as I said, this gang who are dishonoring their name.”
Still, though a military strike on Iran wasn’t the right answer in his view, Lewis conceded: “It may come to that.”