World Jewish Congress (WJC) honored Israeli President Shimon Peres with its Theodor Herzl Award at a gala dinner in New York City on Monday night which was attended by more than 300 guests. The event, at which WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, his brother Leonard A. Lauder and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel served as dinner chairs, raised US$ 3 million in support of the organization. Lauder hailed President Peres as “the last, great founding father of the State of Israel” and called him “a man of vision” who was “a true champion for peace in our time.”
Peres, who was unable to attend in person, sent a videotaped message to the gathering thanking the WJC for the honor.“The Jewish people are a fighting people, more with values than with swords,” he said, adding: “Today, we stand together on two complicated fronts: the State of Israel vis-à-vis Hamas, and the Jewish people vis-à-vis anti-Semitism. When it comes to Jewish life, anti-Semitism is a bias and a sick perception. As for Hamas, after 64 years, when we thought the time had arrived for peace, we have had to face the ugly, unbelievable assembly of Hamas. Their leaders are calling for the destruction of Israel, for war, for hatred. They belong to the past. They don’t have any future. We must try to make peace with those Palestinians ready to make peace,” Israel's head of state emphasized.
In his opening remarks, Lauder expressed grave concern about Iran’s continuing nuclear ambitions, the resurgence of virulent anti-Semitism across Europe and the ongoing attempts by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize, demonize and isolate the Jewish state. “The World Jewish Congress is on the ground taking effective action wherever and whenever Jewish life, property or culture is threatened,” he stated. “The WJC has always, and will always, stand with Israel as one Jewish family.”
Addressing dinner guests, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak thanked Lauder for his life-long friendship to the State of Israel and his “positive impact on global Jewry" and hailed President Peres for his "dedicated service to Israel.” In discussing the challenges facing his country and the wider Middle East, Barak said: “We must be ready to stretch out our hand for peace, while keeping the other hand on the trigger, ready to defend ourselves.” He went on to say: “We are determined to prevent Iran from becoming a military nuclear power. The Iranians are deliberately trying to create a level of redundancy and protection for their program, what we call the ‘zone of immunity…’ Once they enter the ‘zone of immunity,’ fate will be out of our hands. The State of Israel was founded precisely so that our fate would remain in our own hands.”
Barak called the recent Palestinian bid for non-member status at the United Nations “provocative” and said that it “cannot replace direct negotiations without preconditions, nor should it be used as an excuse not to negotiate. The objective of these negotiations is clear: two states for two peoples.”
A portion of the WJC dinner program was dedicated to recognizing Israel’s unique and highly successful missile defense system, the Iron Dome. A satellite hook-up allowed guests at the dinner to see a live interview with IDF soldiers stationed at an Iron Dome battery in Southern Israel. “This is revolutionary technology that has saved thousands of lives,” said Ronald Lauder. We are indebted to the IDF and to all the soldiers who operate this equipment and who put their own lives on the line to protect and secure the people and land of Israel.”
At the start of the WJC program, Lauder called for a moment of silence in remembrance of the victims of the recent deadly rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Pictured above (left to right): Leonard A. Lauder, Ronald S. Lauder, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel's UN Ambassador Ron Prosor