NEW YORK – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the American Jewish community for its partnership in fighting injustice while stressing the need to “stand strong against extremists,” while speaking in New York Tuesday night.
At the 50th anniversary tribute gala dinner of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ban said the UN and American Jewry “share a common goal... and identical values” in the pursuit of “peace and human dignity for all.”
In his brief speech to the estimated 1,100 attendees, Ban said: “There can be no mistaking the distinct imprint that American Jewish organizations have made on the United Nations.
“Over the years we have campaigned together against injustice and intolerance. Our joint legacy is solid. The question now is where we go from here.”
Despite “living in an era of tremendous opportunity,” Ban acknowledged present threats and challenges. He reiterated that, “no one – not Jews, Muslims or anyone else – should suffer or be targeted because of the creed they follow.
“My position is unequivocal: anti-Semitism has no place in the 21st century,” he said. “Too much is at stake to allow such discrimination to persist.”
He called the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks a “welcome step away from a dangerous status quo,” and acknowledged the upcoming anniversaries of Kristallnacht and the liberation of Auschwitz. “It is a cardinal mission of the United Nations to avert any such future horrors,” Ban said.
“I look forward to strengthening the ties between the United Nations and all of you here tonight,” he said, and concluded, “our doors are open to American Jewish organizations across the spectrum of our work.”
Former president George W. Bush made a surprise appearance at the event and President Barack Obama addressed the gala via pretaped video message.
“I will not believe in Iran’s peaceful intentions until they can irrevocably prove that it’s true,” Bush told the gathering, according to several people in attendance.
“The United States’ foreign policy must be clear eyed and understand that until the form of government changes in Iran, it is unlikely that their intentions toward Israel will change.”
Bush’s appearance had not been publicized, and attendees were asked not to record or tape his comments.
Prior to the gala, Presidents Conference chairman Bob Sugarman spoke on the radio to the Nachum Segal Network and said, in his four months as head, he had seen “first hand the reach of the conference, the influence of the conference and the respect in which the conference and [current executive vice chairman] Malcolm Hoenlein are held.
“We’re in the midst of an era where the primary mission of the conference is being tested, which is to enhance US-Israel relationship,” Sugarman said. “My view is that the conference is playing a major role in enhancing that relationship, and is doing a very effective job.”
Hoenlein was honored at the gala for his 25 years of service.
All other honorees at the gala had served as chair people of the conference since 1997. They included James S. Tisch, the CEO of Loews Corporation and founder, with his wife Meryl, of the Tisch Cancer Institute; Mort Zuckerman, owner of the New York Daily News and US News & World Report; Ronald Lauder, current president of the World Jewish Congress and former US ambassador to Austria; attorney Melvin Salberg; Harold Tanner, longtime member of the American Jewish Committee’s Board of Governors; Alan Solow, past chairman of both the Presidents Conference and several other major Jewish organizations; and Richard B. Stone, immediate past chairman of the Presidents Conference.
The conference also posthumously honored June Walker, who in addition to serving as a former chairwoman, was the national president of Hadassah and a member of AIPAC’s executive committee. Walker died in 2008.