The ZOA Justice Louis D. Brandeis Awards Dinner, which took place on Sunday evening, November 17, could not have happened at a more appropriate time.
The combination of political turmoil in both Israel and the United States and the increasing incidence of anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism in the communities and college campuses of the United States, Canada and Europe pointed toward the need for a clear, strong and direct response from responsible Jewish communal bodies.
The Zionist Organization of America, “ZOA,” has existed for over 120 years and is the American representative of the World Zionist Organization, “WZO,” in Israel. Its initial growth was jump started by former Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis prior to the creation of the State of Israel. Its current growth has been due to the unrelenting efforts of Morton A. Klein who became president of the ZOA in 1994.
Under Mort Klein’s leadership, the ZOA has morphed from a simple representative body of the WZO into a powerful spokesman for American Zionists, both Jewish and non-Jewish. It has also advanced a more “right-wing” political stance toward Israel and as such has supported the right-wing Israeli political parties such as Likud. In line with this stance it has supported American politicians whose Israel platform advocates a unified Jerusalem, no return of territory and the right of settlement in all of Judea and Samaria.
As the majority of strong support for the State of Israel has come mainly from the Republican Party, the ZOA has mostly attracted Republican politicians to its fold. It has also attracted top financial contributors including Sheldon and Miriam Adelson and members of the Evangelical Christian Zionist world.
President Trump’s Ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, was a ZOA board member until his appointment, and the ZOA was a major catalyst in President Trump’s decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem.
This year’s ZOA dinner was punctuated with an unequivocal flow of support for incumbent President Donald Trump. It included presentations by Israel Ambassador Danny Danon, Trump National Security Adviser Ambassador Robert O’Brien, Governor of Florida Ron Desantis and Judge Jeanine Pirro, who was introduced via video by President Donald J. Trump.
Ambassador Danny Danon was introduced by Chinese businessman Dr. Bruno Wu, whose grandfather Dr. Woo Kai Sheng helped save and bring thousands of Jews fleeing the Holocaust to Shanghai. Ambassador Danon emphasized President Donald Trump’s steadfast support. He welcomed the new American UN Ambassador Kelly Craft and mentioned that there is a new era unfolding in the world with moderate Arab countries reaching out to Israel to share in its great technological ability.
Ambassador Robert O’Brien is the top national security adviser to President Trump. Receiving the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson Award, he expressed that the U.S. and Israel have common values and dreams that bond them. “For America we seek the fulfillment of the promise of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, for Israel the dream is Zionism and the dream of the Jewish state in the Jewish homeland. In both cases we see our nations as a haven for our people.”
Governor of Florida Ron Desantis was introduced by Mort Klein and received the Dr. Bob Shillman award. A strong and consistent backer of Israel and well-known for his anti-BDS position, he challenged “Airbnb” when they delisted Israeli properties in Judea and Samaria, thereby forcing them to rescind their decision or face being barred for doing business in the State of Florida. Governor Desantis stated, “I signed one of the toughest anti-Semitism bills in the entire country; we are not going to allow our colleges and universities to support BDS with tax dollars.”
Judge Jeanine Pirro was introduced by President Donald Trump on video as the recipient of the Mortimer Zuckerman award. The president stated: “There is no one I would rather have on my side than Judge Jeanine Pirro.” Judge Pirro responded: “Isn’t it great to have a president who means what he says and says what he means… When he said he would move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it was not only a geographical shift but it was a seismic shift that signaled to the world that the U.S. was a true and longstanding ally of the State of Israel.”
ZOA President Morton Klein was introduced by Paul Packer who praised Klein for striving for the truth and not for popularity and not changing his opinions to match the times and political winds. Said Packer: “He does not let go till the truth wins.”
Klein gave a thorough overview of the current activities of the ZOA including action against anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment in the universities. When speaking about Israel he emotionally expressed: “The evil Islamic Jew-hating Gaza Muslim terrorist groups have launched over 400 missiles at Israel in the past week and yet miraculously not a single Israeli has been killed. It’s a miracle far beyond us. The only explanation I have is in the Iron Dome but even more importantly is the hand of Almighty God, King of the Universe.”
Teaneck clergyman Rabbi Steven Pruzansky attended the dinner with his wife Karen. In a subsequent lecture at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, Rabbi Pruzansky stated that there has never been a U.S. president who has been a better friend to Israel than Donald Trump.
Said Rabbi Pruzansky, “President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the U.S. Embassy there, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and stated that the U.S. does not consider Israeli settlements on the West Bank to be illegal. All that he can possibly do now is to build the Third Temple.”
The ZOA has become a major spokesman against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism both in communities and on college campuses. With numerous initiatives and programs for student leaders in the USA and Israel, it has invested huge resources in order to build Jewish leadership and advocacy for future generations.
By Tzvi Allen Fishman