It was inspiring. The Zionist Organization of America’s (ZOA) 120th Brandeis Award national dinner in NYC treated 1,200 attendees to speeches by honorees National Security Adviser John Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, TV and radio host Mark Levin and ZOA President Morton Klein, who received ZOA’s Theodore Herzl award for 25 years of stellar leadership. Also speaking or introducing honorees were Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon and Harvard law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz.
Addressing the event by video, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded ZOA saying, “The ZOA wages a fearless battle for the truth … and never flinches from defending Israel from its detractors.”
Danon addressed the massacre of 11 Jews at prayer in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. “They were murdered only because they were Jews,” Danon said. “We will not stop fighting until the source of anti-Semitism is eradicated.”
John Bolton, who received ZOA’s Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson Defender of Israel Award, talked about the relocation of the U.S. embassy, the June withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council and the recent U.S. withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC), calling it “an illegitimate, unaccountable, and unconstitutional foreign bureaucracy that has the audacity to consider asserting jurisdiction over American and Israeli citizens without their consent.”
Bolton also mentioned cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority, as mandated by the Taylor Force Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law. He then focused on the administration’s Iran policy stating: “Over the decades, Iran has kidnapped, tortured and murdered American and Israeli citizens. It has attacked our embassies and targeted our service members. The Mullahs proudly chant ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel.’ This brutal dictatorship can never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon.”
Bolton shared details of Iran’s increased aggression and said the administration responded by re-imposing sanctions lifted under the deal, adding: “The sanctions have already had a devastating effect on the Iranian economy.”
During his speech, Klein focused on ZOA’s role at vital points in the history of Zionism and Israel, including Justice Louis D. Brandeis’ role in persuading President Woodrow Wilson to support the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
“ZOA was the only major Jewish group that opposed the Oslo Accords, correctly predicting it would lead to disaster. For this, we were condemned by our detractors as extremists, as warmongers, as enemies of peace. We were also the only major Jewish group to oppose the 2005 disastrous unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which has led to the firing by Hamas … of more than 20,000 rockets from Gaza into Israel.”
Klein made a powerful appeal for unity of the Jewish people in the wake of Pittsburgh’s synagogue massacre. “Despite our achievements and the work of other Jewish groups, the scourge of anti-Semitism is still with us.
“We have to realize that anti-Semites do not care about the level of any Jew’s religious observance,” he continued. “We Jews have to realize that we are all in this together. We must unconditionally love, support and respect one another, no matter what our differences.”
I recalled the day I met my friend Mort Klein. It was ZOA’s 1993 Washington, D.C., convention when he ran for ZOA president as an unknown.
I attended Mort’s parlor meeting with my mom, ZOA Michigan delegate Anne G. Silver, and was so impressed I asked if I could speak on his behalf before the vote. “Israel needs better PR and media coverage in this country because it shapes public opinion and public policy,” I said. “Mort Klein already got millions of eyeballs on the facts versus the lies about Israel with his op-eds in the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer — and he did it without an organizational title. He’s the kind of leader Israel needs at ZOA’s helm. We need to elect him president.”
After Mort won, he asked me to be a ZOA officer. His knowledge and determined advocacy for Israel enabled him to quickly make an impact — as he’s now done for 25 years.
He’s had critics, but I’ve always felt helping Mort Klein become ZOA president was a mitzvah for Israel and the Jewish people. Am Yisrael chai!
Sheryl Silver is a lifelong Temple Israel member and former national officer of ZOA.