A true giant of pro-Israel activism in America is gone. Herb Zweibon, the founder and president of Americans For A Safe Israel / AFSI, died on Tu B'Shevat, January 19, 2011.
It seems extremely appropriate that someone who focused so much of his energy, money and time dedicated to bringing peace, security and prosperity to the Land of Israel should have his life forever connected to a holiday that has at its core the themes of Israel's agriculture and land, the centrality of Jerusalem and the importance of contributing to charity.
Herb Zweibon was born and raised in an extended family that was one of the leading pillars of the Jabotinsky movement in America since the 1940s. He was a successful businessman, was a loving family man and was a highly patriotic American who served in the U.S. military in World War Two. Perhaps those things were all a direct result of his personal internalization of Jabotinsky's teaching of concepts such as Hadar, self-respect and self-discipline.
No American did more in the last 20 years to make sure that Jabotinsky's memory was perpetuated than Herb Zweibon.
Here are just a few of the concrete things Herb brought to life to memorialize Jabotinsky:
-- Under Herb’s direction AFSI organized and sponsored the annual Manhattan memorial event for Jabotinsky. The keynote speaker at the 2010 event was Douglas Feith and his speech drew significant media attention.
-- In 2010 AFSI distributed a biographical booklet about Jabotinsky called Jabotinsky - The Man And The Vision written by AFSI’s Jerusalem representative William Mehlman. It can be found online in its entirety at http://www.afsi.org/pamphlets/JabotinskyPamphlet20100714.pdf.
-- Herb was one of the key financial supporters who enabled Israeli Shmuel Katz to research and write his groundbreaking 1996 two volume biography of Jabotinsky Lone Wolf. Katz wrote in his Introduction that Herb was “first among” the “group of friends” that provided “generous assistance” to him.
-- Herb’s dedication to Lone Wolf didn’t stop there. He had AFSI continue to sell and distribute Lone Wolf and Katz’s other classic books even after Katz’s death in 2008.
Herb also wanted to make sure that Jabotinsky was taught to the young people of Israel too. He conceived of a nationwide essay contest for Israeli high school students and was involved in every detail of this highly successful initiative. The inaugural contest was 2010’s which marked the seventieth anniversary of Jabotinsky’s death. The Jabotinsky National Essay Contest had 15 winners and hundreds of competitors with an awards ceremony held in the Knesset.
In addition to memorializing Jabotinsky Herb led AFSI in continuing to focus on key issues that his teacher himself would have concentrated on too had he been alive.Jerusalem remained a central issue for Herb. The Outpost monthly newsletter published by AFSI always featured a front page column by Herb and very often he wrote about the importance of Jerusalem’s security.
AFSI always stood against any Israeli retreat from Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and Gaza. The Jewish communities in Gush Katif had no more committed friends in America than Herb and AFSI. And that support did not end after the so-called Disengagement. Herb’s aim was to make sure that Israeli Settlers never felt abandoned or alone.
AFSI remained steadfastly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state and sponsored speaking tours featuring Israeli spokespeople who articulated the danger that a PLO/Fatah state would mean to Israel and America.
During Israel’s Operation Peace for Galilee campaign in Lebanon in 1982 AFSI made defending Israel against defamation in the mainstream media a key objective. Before CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) became a national organization and before Honest Reporting was launched, there was AFSI fighting for truth. Under Herb’s direction AFSI produced an hour long documentary video called “NBC in Lebanon: A Study of Media Representation.” The Institute for Palestine Studies published book American Jewish Organizations & Israel by Lee O’Brien called the video “widely distributed” and they were right. No pro-Israel organization in the U.S. had ever produced anything like it.
AFSI executive director at the time, Peter Goldman, was responsible for the NBC exposé. He followed the video up with a 1986 book he co-wrote with Stephen Karetzky titled The Media's War Against Israel: The Full Expose No One Dared Publishthat featured an introduction by Jack Kemp.
Under Herb’s leadership AFSI over the last several years seemed more vital than ever. As the organization approached the 40th anniversary of its founding last year many news plans were underway. Chapters were initiated and re-organized. The website was revamped at http://www.afsi.org/. An Israeli grassroots website called Maspik Vedai (“Enough, already!”) was given full support in 2009 and it can be seen at http://www.maspikvedai.co.il/. A website was launched in 2008 in order to spread the teachings and writings of Shmuel Katz. Visit the website at www.shmuelkatz.com. In 2010 a blog with the title Lessons For Today was added to the website in order to apply Katz’s teachings to today’s events. And Herb’s guiding hand was behind it all.
Herb’s enemies were frequently forced to acknowledge the success of AFSI. Herb pioneered the idea of working with Evangelical Christians in the U.S. to support the Jewish State. Israel basher Grace Halsell noted in her 1986 book Prophecy and Politics, The Secret Alliance Between Israel and the U.S. Christian Right that AFSI pioneered outreach to the Evangelical community. “…the actual credit for making (the late Senator Jesse) Helms do the flip flop (and become an ardent Israel supporter goes to) a conservative Israeli lobbying group, called Americans For A Safe Israel, (they) did that…”
Herb served on the board of directors of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies based in Houston. Bernard Shapiro, the director of the Freeman Center wrote the following about Herb the day of the funeral: “Jabotinsky and Shmuel Katz were his intellectual and ideological teachers, but Herb was mine.” Herb Zweibon was an excellent teacher to us all. He left an indelible imprint on pro-Israel activism. Our own and future generations were immeasurably enriched by the gift of his long and creative life.
May his example and teachings endure, enlighten and inspire for many years to come.