ZOA Swings Political—and Not Just About Israel
By Maxine Dovere
The annual Louis D. Brandeis Memorial Dinner, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), welcomed more than 500 attendees to the Grand Hyatt in New York on November 12.
Among the many notables attending the event were U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who stressed his expectation that moving the American embassy to Jerusalem was simply a matter of “when” and not “if”; and former Sen. Joe Lieberman, who received the Dr. Wu Kai Shang Lifetime Achievement award, established by Dr. Bruno Wu to honor his father’s work as a rescuer of Jews in Shanghai before and during World War II.
Generally, the event reflected the standard ZOA pattern: Honorees responded with grateful and emotional statements; calls for the redemption of Zion through justice; statements defining anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism; and a video homage to ZOA President Morton Klein, who had testified in Congress that the American embassy should be in Jerusalem and that Hamas’ “true intention,” the destruction of Israel, was not sensitive to political offers or generous agreements.
One could, however, feel tension in the room. After years of supporting the Zionist Organization of America with their funds and their presence, Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson were absent from the annual Louis D. Brandeis Memorial Dinner. Although they were listed in the evening’s program, the places of honor usually reserved for the couple were occupied by others.
Their absence was apparently not personal. Rather, it appears to have been political. Sheldon Adelson had a conflict: Among the most significant Republican funders, he was faced with the question of whether to break bread or, implicitly, break with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who was, according to the printed program, slated to introduce the Adelsons at the Brandeis dinner.
The GOP funder is known as a supporter of Republicans and Republican incumbents; Bannon appears to be actively working towards replacing several of the Vegas magnate’s traditional choices in the 2018 election cycle.
Adelson spokesman Andy Abboud was quoted in Politico as saying, “The Adelsons will not be supporting Steve Bannon’s efforts. They are supporting Mitch McConnell 100 percent. For anyone to infer anything otherwise is wrong.”
Adelson’s absence was as strong a statement as his presence would have been.
Bannon aides, questioned by a reporter who failed to mention that her questions were “on the record,” bristled at the suggestion that the former White House chief strategist’s appearance at the ZOA event was anything other than an opportunity to present his “Christian Zionist” position and assure those attending of his sincere support of the state of Israel.
ZOA President Klein has been an ardent defender of Bannon, even in the face of Republican-establishment charges that he holds “anti-Semitic views.”
In a press release, Klein said, “We are proud and fortunate to have Steve Bannon on our side fighting for Israel and against anti-Semitism, and we’re honored that he will be a speaker at ZOA’s 2017 gala.”
At the time the release was issued, Bannon was slated to introduce Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson.
The enthusiasm for ZOA’s Fuel for Truth—the Israel advocacy training program that is currently fighting the BDS movement on college campuses and is largely funded by philanthropist Myron Zimmerman—was palpable. Zimmerman glowed in the warmth of the group’s representatives’ company.
In his summary speech, Klein said, “ZOA has made it clear that there is no occupation. Israel is totally Jewish land and has never been Arab land….If it were Arab, why would they have used a Roman name—‘Palestine’?”
Sounding more biblical than on previous occasions, Klein stated, “We who love Israel…must continue to believe in miracles—that the land [of Israel] flourished only under the control of God. Forty percent of the officers in the IDF, the Israeli army, are religious….There will be a time of regeneration, hope and fulfillment of the promises of the Torah. God keeps his promises….We must never forget and never be silent.”
Rep. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Lee Zeldin, Sen. Tom Cotton and, seated at the head table, New York State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox lent a distinctly partisan air to the event.
“We’d love to have the Democrats,” said Brooklyn ZOA President Rubin Margolis. “But they don’t come.”