Friendship, Culture Link America, Israel


By Masha Leon

Published December 05, 2003, issue of December 05, 2003.
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“We are the No. 1 target of a new form of antisemitism….. Israel has become the collective Jew,” said Mortimer Zuckerman, president of the America-Israel Friendship League, at the league’s November 12 Partners for Democracy Award dinner. “If the Iraq venture fails,” Zuckerman cautioned, “a new wave of antisemitism will target the Jews of the world.”

The 600 stellar guests at the New York Hilton were welcomed by Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, and Kenneth Bialkin, board chairman of the league, who acknowledged Moscow’s chief rabbi, Pincus Goldschmidt; Russia’s consul general, Viacheslav Pavlovskij, and Colonel Jack Jacobs (U.S. Army, retired), the only living Jewish recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

“Russia, America, Israel have the same strategic interests,” said honoree Len Blavatnik, chairman of Access Industries, described in the dinner’s journal as “a global private investment firm with… equity stakes in the energy, minerals and mining, telecommunications, real estate and financial service sectors in Russia, Eurasia, Western Europe and the United States.”

Blavatnik expressed gratitude to “the Jewish organizations that helped” him after he came to the United States from Minsk in 1978.

Honoree Joseph Flom — a partner of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP — said modestly, “I was taught to give back…. I am Jewish, so my priorities go to support Jewish and Israeli institutions.” But Flom’s philanthropic heart beats to other drummers as well: He’s respected not only for raising money for the 1990 parade for American troops returning from the Gulf War but also for establishing the Joseph and Claire Flom Foundation, which, according to the dinner’s journal, serves “gifted disadvantaged youth and programs to increase racial understanding.”

Honoree Dov Lautman, chairman of Delta Galil Industries, said whimsically, “We make our living selling shmattes to DKNY, Calvin Klein, Gap, Target… and Walmart.” Lautman joked that he had just purchased a sock company “so I can put socks on the American people.”

Nebraska’s attorney general, Jon Bruning, thanked the league “for a life-changing trip…. It had a profound impact on me…. The Arabs in Israel are treated better than the Arabs in Arab countries.” Bruning vowed: “You can count on my friendship as long as I’m in public service.”

Yigal Carmon, founder of the Middle East Media Research Institute — better known as MEMRI — recalled his hour-long February 1993 briefing at the Pentagon in which he expounded on the threat to the United States of Islamic fundamentalism. “I was told I was making too much of it…. A few hours later the first attack on the World Trade Center took place.” Apropos MEMRI’s monitoring of the Arab media and translation of Arabic news, Carmon said, “The more information you acquire, the more pain you feel.”

Israel’s minister of education, culture and sports, Limor Livnat, posited: “Where would America’s founding fathers feel more at home — in Jerusalem, Damascus or Ramallah?… Radical Islam is no different than the two ‘-isms’ that preceded it: fascism and communism.”

* * *

More than 1,000 guests attended the November 3 Loews Astor premiere of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Moriah Films documentary “Unlikely Heroes: Stories of Jewish Resistance.” Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center’s dean and founder, and Rhonda Barad, its eastern director, offered greetings and acknowledged director Rick Trank, who co-authored and co-produced the film. (Trank won an Academy Award for an earlier Wiesenthal Center documentary “The Long Way Home.”)

This startling, beautifully structured archival film memoir, narrated by Sir Ben Kingsley, is a long overdue revelation about seven extraordinary Jewish men and women whose ingenuity, nerve and mind-boggling chutzpah helped save thousands of European Jews during World War II. There’s Pinchas Rosenbaum, for example, a rabbi’s son who joined the underground after his entire family perished and, for more than a year, disguised himself as a high-ranking Nazi in the Hungarian Arrow Cross and risked his life to save more than 1,000 Jews from death, mostly orphans. Or take Willy Perl, an Austrian Jew who in 1938 defied then S.S. second lieutenant Adolf Eichmann and went to Berlin with a fantastic scheme to help Jews get to Palestine illegally; 40,000 made it. Do not miss this film when it is released!

* * *

At the November 9 America-Israel Cultural Foundation gala concert at Carnegie Hall, the foundation’s president, Vera Stern, presented the 2003 Aviv Award recipient Daniel Libeskind with “a copy of your AICF record from our Israel offices‚ archives detailing the scholarship you were awarded in music for the years 1957-58 and 1958-59.”

“I’m sure your dream then was to get to Carnegie Hall through your musical talent,” she said. “Forty-five years later AICF is delighted to help this dream come true.” Of Libeskind’s architectural achievements, Stern touted the Jewish Museum in Berlin, “which today, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, stands out as a symbol of remembrance at the highest art form.”

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