Ronald S. Lauder, World Jewish Congress President
Ronald S. Lauder, World Jewish Congress PresidentShahar Azran/WJC

Although the State of Israel’s enemies could not defeat the Jewish state militarily or economically, they are now trying to do so “politically and we see their influence growing everywhere,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said in his remarks Tuesday at the organization’s annual gala dinner in New York City.

During the past 25 years, he said, Middle Eastern countries have “quietly donated large sums of money to our best universities, under the guise of creating Middle East studies departments. They brought in anti-Israel professors and this has had a huge impact. While few were paying attention, these departments have successfully turned colleges, which were once honest in their teaching, into anti-Israel propaganda arenas. Young people have turned against Israel. The media has turned against Israel. You can see it all over the internet.”

Such anti-Israel sentiments, Amb. Lauder continued, have “even filtered down to voters, who have elected representatives in the United States Congress who have raised some of the most disgusting blood libels, antisemitic canards and pro-BDS support, without any shame whatsoever. Even worse, their party leaders refuse or are too afraid to condemn them. There are 37 Jewish members of Congress, where are they? Don’t you think we should hear more from them?”

Amb. Lauder made the remarks just prior to awarding WJC’s top honor, the Theodor Herzl Award, to Dr. Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer, for leading the innovation that resulted in a life-saving vaccine during an unprecedented pandemic.

The award, established in 2012, recognizes outstanding individuals who work to promote Herzl’s ideals through international support for Israel and enhanced understanding of Jewish history, culture and peoplehood.

“The past 20 months has been without question the strangest time in our lives. The entire world just stopped.” Amb. Lauder said in honoring Dr. Bourla. “In an unbelievably short time, vaccines went to trial and were produced. Pfizer was at the forefront of this effort.”

In his acceptance remarks, Dr. Bourla noted that November 9 marks two “very different” anniversaries of personal significance.

“As the son of Holocaust survivors, November 9 has been synonymous with Kristallnacht,” he said. “But November 9, 2020, is a day I will always remember” for another reason because on that day “Pfizer delivered news to the world that clinical trials demonstrated that our vaccine works” and that lives would be saved.

Also at the event, Itzhak Perlman, legendary violinist, teacher and conductor, received the sixth WJC Teddy Kollek Award for the Advancement of Jewish Culture. Perlman has performed with every major orchestra around the globe. Zubin Mehta, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra music director emeritus, who received the Teddy Kollek Award in 2020, introduced Perlman.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a previous Herzl Award recipient, delivered remarks to commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nov. 9-10, 1938, Nazi pogrom in Germany also known as the “Night of Broken Glass.” Kissinger and his family fled Germany for the United States just prior to the pogrom.

Reflecting on his personal story, Kissinger remarked, “I was fortunate to be in New York with my parents and my brother, but my grandparents on [my] mother’s side were evicted from their home in which they had lived all their lives and never saw it again.”

Previous recipients of the Herzl Award include President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres; former U.S. Secretaries of State George Shultz and Gen. Colin L. Powell; Amb. Nikki Haley, former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations; and Elie and Marion Wiesel.

Actor Kirk Douglas was honored with the inaugural Teddy Kollek Award in 2016.