Secretary-General Guterres accepts World Jewish Congress’ highest honor, the WJC Theodor Herzl Award; virtual WJC gala also honors Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director Emeritus Zubin Mehta
NEW YORK – On Monday, November 9, António Guterres, the ninth and current Secretary-General of the United Nations, accepted the World Jewish Congress’ highest honor, the WJC Theodor Herzl Award. In his acceptance remarks, he acknowledged that “a steady stream of prejudice has continued to blight our world: antisemitic assaults, harassment and vandalism; Holocaust denial… With COVID-19, another virus has spread – antisemitism and hatred of many kinds.” He called the WJC’s work to fight such hatreds “more important than ever.”
Established in 2012, the award recognizes outstanding individuals who work to promote Herzl’s ideals for a safer, more tolerant world for the Jewish people through international support for Israel and enhanced understanding of Jewish history, culture, and peoplehood.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s award was presented during a virtual gala. With the online event held on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, Lauder emphasized the dangers of indifference to antisemitism and divisiveness among the Jewish people, calling for action from political leaders, university administrations, and social media companies.
Lauder highlighted the WJC’s successful engagement with Facebook, leading to the company’s recent announcements augmenting its policy prohibiting Facebook and Instagram users from posting hate speech to its platforms. “We are at the forefront of the fight against antisemitism on social media. In a major policy change, after our close work with Facebook, the internet giant is now removing posts with antisemitic stereotypes and Holocaust denial.”
In honoring Guterres, Lauder said, “The World Jewish Congress’ highest honor, our Theodor Herzl Award, comes with our deepest appreciation to you for being the voice of fairness and equity that the State of Israel and the Jewish people have been hoping for at the United Nations for a long, long time… I want to express our gratitude to you for calling out antisemitism and anti-Zionism and refusing to bow to the pressure of those who seek to isolate, demonize and delegitimize the only Jewish state in the world – Israel. … Through your words and deeds over many years, you have shown that you are a true and devoted friend of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel.”
Lauder’s full remarks can be found here.
In accepting the honor, Guterres said, “For me, the fight against antisemitism is deeply personal. I came of age in modern Europe as it was recovering from the war. Opposition to the tyranny of fascism was central in the development of my social and political consciousness. To see neo-Nazis and white supremacists on the march today is bone-chilling. To see them infiltrating militaries and security establishments heightens the danger further still.
“We must stand together against hatred in all its forms. Our world today needs a return to reason – and a rejection of the lies and loathing that propelled the Nazis and that fracture societies today.”
He closed on a positive note, with the reminder that “It is within our power to emerge from the pandemic with stronger communities, and more cohesive societies, by addressing the inequalities and injustices that have been exposed so starkly. Solidarity within and among countries will be crucial. For us as individuals, that means speaking out even when one’s own group may not be in the direct firing line, and never abetting efforts to target others. Hatred doesn’t discriminate.”
Guterres’ full remarks can be found here. Guterres’ partnership with the WJC has included delivering a keynote speech at the WJC Plenary Assembly in April 2017, pledging to “be on the front lines in the fight against antisemitism,” and participating in WJC’s annual We Remember campaign which works to advance Holocaust education.
Zubin Mehta, Music Director Emeritus of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, received the WJC’s fifth Teddy Kollek Award for the Advancement of Jewish Culture.
Mehta said, “I cannot tell you what an honor it is to be receiving an award from the World Jewish Congress, particularly in the name of Teddy Kollek.” He discussed his decades of friendship with the late Kollek, remembering how a year after the Six Day War, as mayor of Jerusalem, Kollek arranged a concert, with the consent of the mayor of Bethlehem, for the orchestra and Mehta on the square in front of the Church of the Nativity. He recalled, “It was the first time that Jews, Arabs and Christians sat together for any event, it was a very moving occasion.”
The program also included a tribute from former Herzl Award honoree and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, greetings from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, a moment of silence remembering Kristallnacht, a video featuring the WJC’s participation in the official events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and a special rendition of Israeli national anthem “Hatikvah,” sung by students at Jewish schools supported by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in Europe.
Previous recipients of the WJC Theodor Herzl Award include former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Rothschild family, former U.S. Secretary of State General Colin L. Powell, U.S. President-elect Joseph R. Biden, former Israeli President Shimon Peres, Elie and Marion Wiesel, former secretaries of state Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz, and, posthumously, President Ronald Reagan and Axel Springer. Kirk Douglas was honored with the inaugural Teddy Kollek Award in 2016, followed by film director George Stevens in 2017, philanthropist Robert Kraft in 2018, and Broadway actor, singer, director, and photographer Joel Grey in 2019.
WATCH: Keynote Address by WJC President Ronald S. Lauder
WATCH: Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director Emeritus Zubin Mehta accepts the Teddy Kollek Award
WATCH: The World Jewish Congress Theordor Herzl Award (Full Program)