The America-Israel Friendship League’s 2012 Partners for Democracy Awards Dinner graced the ballroom of the Plaza Hotel in New York City on Tuesday, November 20. The personality-studded dinner was attended by a great number of New York’s elite, many of whom are members of the AIFL Executive and dinner committee.
The America-Israel Friendship League is a unique organization which is dedicated to promoting and strengthening the relationship between the people of the United States and Israel. Neither a political nor a sectarian organization, it mobilizes broad support by initiating people to people exchanges between Americans and Israelis of all ages and faiths, ethnic backgrounds and political persuasions.
Among the attendees at the 2012 gala were: Mortimer Zuckerman, Dinner Chairman and Honorary President of AIFL; James S. Tisch, Dinner Chairman and CEO of Loews Corporation; Kenneth J. Bialkin, President of AIFL; Harley Lippman, Chairman of the Executive Committee; AIFL Vice-Presidents Hon. Robert Abrams, Dr. June Dempsey, Paul M. Kaplan, Carol W. Karsch, Ambassador Frederic V. Malek, and Prof. Richard B. Stone; Israel Board of Directors Chairman and former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman; Executive Director Dr. Alex Grobman and Senior Advisor to the Chairman, Ambassador Uri Bar Ner.
In addition, Roger Ailes, CEO and Chairman of Fox News Network, Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert, Bernard Marcus, Elie Wiesel, former Mayor Ed Koch, Alan Dershowitz, Ronald Lauder and potential NYC mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis were among the many supporters of AIFL who attended the Awards Dinner.
This year’s Partners for Democracy Awards Recipients included: Malcolm Hoenlein, CEO and Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Professor Bernard Lewis, one of America’s greatest historians, writers and speaker; and Sami Sagol, Chairman of Keter Group of Israel.
The evening opened with remarks by AIFL Chairman Kenneth Bialkin. In his remarks, Bialkin spoke about Operation Pillar of Defense, which was still taking place at the time the dinner was held, and how it is hoped that Israel’s strong response will teach Hamas “what they ought to know.”
“Let us hope that Israel’s unrelenting efforts to defeat Hamas,” Bialkin went on, “will also show the rest of the Arab world that the time has come to accept Israel’s right to exist and to accept Israel’s offer of a two state solution while accepting to negotiate without pre-conditions.”
The featured speaker of the evening was Consul General of Israel Ido Aharoni. The Consul General stated that these are very emotional times in Israel. “Today, 4,000,000 Israelis are in range of Hamas missiles and 1,000,000 are continuously running to shelters, the damage to Israel’s economy is measured in billions of dollars and many Israelis have been killed,” Aharoni stated. “Over the past years, over 12,000 rockets have been launched into Israel…What democratic government would ever allow that?”
Aharoni reiterated that the majority of Israelis would love to have a “two state solution” but that they fear the Arab world is not demanding land only from the 1967 war, but rather the whole State of Israel, and challenging the very basis of Israel’s right of existence with land which the new country won in the War of Independence in 1948. “Hamas refuses to accept our right to exist - that is where it begins and where it ends,” Aharoni declared.
The first recipient of the Partner for Democracy award was Bernard Lewis, who is one of the most influential post-war historians of Islam and the Middle East in the world. “Bernard Lewis has no living rival in his field,” Al Ahram, Cairo’s most influential newspaper, once stated. One may ask -What is a historian of Islam doing at an AIFL dinner? The words of Israel’s President, Shimon Peres, explains that most eloquently, “Here is a man who tries without prejudice to arrive at the truth. I feel myself a student of Bernard Lewis.” The 96-year-old – and still thriving – Lewis has completed more than 12 volumes including two best sellers, has been awarded 15 honorary doctorates and was named one of Time Magazine’s most influential people in the world in 2004. The award was presented to Lewis amid a great round of applause following a unique and sometimes amusing question and answer period moderated by Buntzie Ellis Churchill, his partner in life and co-author of his new book, “Notes on a Century, Reflections on a Middle East Historian.”
The second Partner for Democracy awardee was Malcolm Hoenlein. In his role as leader of the Conference of Presidents, Hoenlein has become one of the most important personalities in the Jewish world and an eloquent spokesman for Israel and Jewish causes. Hoenlein has traveled throughout the world meeting with world leaders such as United States Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama; Pope Benedict XVI; and former Japanese Prime Minsiter Junichiro Koizumi. Hoenlein often travels to Jewish communities all over the United States speaking on a wide range of topics relating to Israel.
At the AIFL dinner, Hoenlein was lauded by Ambassador Dan Gillerman, who said “Malcolm Hoenlein is my mentor and he has led the Jewish community in the world with great wisdom, leadership and integrity.” In his acceptance speech, Hoenlein stated that the battles that Israel faces is not just for Israel but “it is a battle for America; it’s not Egypt and Turkey, it’s Egypt and Turkey trying to create a Sunni presence; it’s Iran trying to create a Shiite presence; it’s a battle of four empires over who will control the Middle East. We stand proud in our Israel-America relationship; it reflects America’s values, interests and future.”
The last award recipient of the evening was Sami Sagol, Chairman of the Keter Group in Israel. Keter has become one of the leading manufacturers of plastic consumer and household products in the world. Found in huge Americans chains such as Home Depot, it is a billion dollar-plus company and one of Israel’s greatest success stories. Emerging from very humble beginnings as a workshop founded in 1948 by Sagol’s father Joseph, it has become the symbol of the great success that can be achieved with diligent work. Sagol and his family have become one of the great philanthropists and visionaries of modern day Israel. A recipient of Israel’s Industry Prize for exceptional achievement, Sami Sagol was described by Ambassador Dan Gillerman in the following way: “A unique Israeli and philanthropist, he exemplifies beauty, excellence, the striving for success and the ability to look into the future and make Israel a better place.”