The 50 most influential Jews of 2014: 11-20

Elie Wiesel can pick up the phone to the US president, the Israeli PM and almost anyone else, and his opinion will be heard and respected.

Elie Wiesel making a fist 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Elie Wiesel making a fist 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 1-10
11. Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, author, activist
FORMER PRIME minister Yitzhak Rabin once called Elie Wiesel the most influential Jew in the latter half of the 20th century, and his influence has only increased with the years. Wiesel can pick up the phone to the American president, the Israeli prime minister and almost anyone else, and his opinion will be heard and respected. He is, perhaps, the most famous Holocaust survivor alive, but he has not restricted himself to writing and lecturing about it.
He has dedicated his life to fighting anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice wherever he sees it, as well as speaking out against genocide, violence and human rights violations around the world.
Wiesel was born on September 30, 1928, in Sighet, Transylvania – now part of Romania – from where he was recently interviewed by Skype on the 70th anniversary of the deportations of Jews from the town. He was 15 years old when he and his family were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz. His mother and younger sister were killed, his two older sisters survived. Elie and his father were later transported to Buchenwald, where his father died shortly before the camp was liberated in April 1945.
After the war, Wiesel studied in Paris and became a journalist. During an interview with distinguished French writer Francois Mauriac he was persuaded to write about his experiences in the death camps. The result was his internationally acclaimed memoir, Night, which has been translated into dozens of languages. In 1978, he was made chairman of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, later to become the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
He is president of The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, an organization he and his wife, Marion, created to fight indifference, intolerance and injustice. He has more than 100 honorary degrees from institutions of higher learning.
Wiesel has defended the cause of Soviet Jews, Nicaragua’s Miskito people, Argentina’s Desaparecidos, Cambodian refugees and the Kurds, as well as victims of famine and genocide in Africa, of apartheid in South Africa and of war in the former Yugoslavia. He is a devoted supporter of Israel in general, as well as of Ethiopian-born Israeli youth through the Foundation’s Beit Tzipora Centers for Study and Enrichment.
Teaching was always central to his work. Since 1976, Wiesel served as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University. He is a member of the Faculty in the Department of Religion as well as the Department of Philosophy. He served as Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at the City University of New York (1972-76) and the first Henry Luce Visiting Scholar in Humanities and Social Thought at Yale University (1982-83).
Wiesel is the author of more than five dozen books of fiction and non-fiction. For his literary and human rights activities he has received numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the US Congressional Gold Medal, the National Humanities Medal, the Medal of Liberty and the rank of Grand-Croix in the French Legion of Honor. In 1986, he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
• Jerusalem Post staff
Ronald Lauder (Reuters)Ronald Lauder (Reuters)
12. Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress
AS PRESIDENT of the World Jewish Congress, New York born Ronald Lauder regularly meets with heads of state and government, diplomats and religious leaders from various denominations.
Deeply committed to Jewish continuity and identity, Lauder, through his Lauder Foundation, has set up a network of formal and informal educational projects and institutions in Eastern Europe to help Jews who had been estranged from Jewish culture and religion under Communist regimes. Some of those Jews are now leaders in their communities or have opted to renew their lives in Israel.
Long before his election to the presidency of the WJC, Lauder was asked by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to go to Syria to begin negotiations on Israel’s behalf with Syrian president Hafez Assad, the father of the current president of Syria.
A billionaire international businessman, art collector, philanthropist and former US ambassador to Austria, Lauder’s estimated net worth according to Forbes is $3.8 billion. His past and present positions include president and chairman of the American Board of the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, chairman of the International Public Committee of the World Jewish Restitution Organization and treasurer of the World Jewish Congress, chairman of the Jewish Heritage Council; director of the International Board of Governors of the International Society for Yad Vashem-Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority; and chairman of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
• Greer Fay Cashman
Steven Spielberg (Reuters)Steven Spielberg (Reuters)
13. Steven Spielberg, Filmmaker, founder of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation
STEVEN SPIELBERG, 67, consummate film director, screenwriter, producer and all-around Hollywood bigwig, with a personal fortune Forbes has valued at $3.3 billion, has also dedicated the past 20 years to perpetuating Jewish history.
Knowing the value of sharing knowledge, Spielberg’s founding in 1994 of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation grew out of his research for seven-time Oscar winner Schindler’s List – a Holocaust epic his childhood rabbi regarded as “a gift to his mother [kosher restaurant owner Leah Adler], his people and in a sense, himself.”
The foundation stands alongside his 1987 expansion of the Jewish Film Archive, which houses over 10,000 titles on film and video and comprises one of the world’s vastest collections of Jewish documentary footage. With these, Spielberg has done the invaluable service of preserving evidence of the Jewish people’s greatest modern tragedy – the Holocaust – alongside its greatest modern miracle and triumph – the State of Israel. Officially recognized by the World Zionist Organization, the archive teems with material shot in Israel before and after gaining independence – including the earliest Zionist film, First Film of Palestine (1911), newsreels and kibbutz productions such as Yoel Lotan’s Heritage (1948); motion picture records of many Diaspora communities; and two Holocaust collections. This is augmented by the Shoah Foundation’s collection of video testimonials from more than 52,000 survivors, from 56 countries in 32 languages.
Spielberg’s latest innovation, the iWitness Challenge is an interactive online tool for schools to teach the next generation of leaders that “profound change can occur when even one person makes a choice.” Spielberg plans to expand iWitness to include survivor testimonials from other genocides, such as Darfur.
• Erica Schachne
Stanley Fischer, Vice chairman of the US Federal Reserve BankStanley Fischer, Vice chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank
14. Stanley Fischer, Vice chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank
ISRAELIS JUST love Stanley Fisher. Perhaps it’s his mild manner, his wise demeanor or the slow meticulousness in which he speaks his accented Hebrew. Perhaps its the calmness he exudes while explaining necessary actions to protect the economy as well as ideals of reducing inequality and promoting peace. But even more likely is the sense that were it not for Fischer, the Bank of Israel governor who stepped down last year (and pushed for his eventual successor Karnit Flug to become the first woman in the job), Israel would not have weathered the storm of the 2008 global financial crisis with so much aplomb.
Fischer was voted Central Bank Governor of the Year in 2010. Yet even since his departure from Israel, he has continued to make waves.
The former MIT professor, who mentored future central bankers including former United States Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, has not fallen off the map since his departure from the Bank of Israel.
Quite the opposite. His international stature has only grown as US President Barack Obama nominated him as vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank.
• Niv Elis
Shari Arison (Reuters)Shari Arison (Reuters)
15. Shari Arison, Owner of Bank Hapoalim, philanthropist, author
SHARI ARISON, philanthropist, social entrepreneur and author, has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to numerous causes through the Ted Arison Family Foundation that she and her late father established in Miami in 1981.
Arison, whose net worth is estimated at $4.2 billion, was born in New York and raised in America and Israel, serving in the IDF.
The Arison Group of companies includes Bank Hapoalim; Shikun and Binui, an international real estate and infrastructure concern; Miya, a global water efficiency and distribution company; and Salt of the Earth, Israel’s prime producer of salt.
Arison’s philanthropy goes beyond money. She is a firm believer in hands-on altruism – through a smile, a kind word or a good deed.
It was no surprise when the Arison Foundation adopted Ruah Tova (“Good Spirit”), which liaises between those who want to volunteer and those who need them. It is the operational arm for Good Deeds Day, which she initiated in Israel in 2007, spreading into 50 countries that copied her model.
She has been repeatedly ranked by Forbes as one of the most powerful women in the world, and in 2010 was ranked second in the list of “green” billionaires. Her publications include Activate Your Goodness: Transforming the World Through Doing Good, which was third on the New York Times best-seller list, and her first book Birth – When the Spiritual and the Material Come Together published in 2009, an Israeli best-seller. She has received awards and distinctions from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation’s Humanitarian Award, the America Israel Friendship League and the George Mason University’s honorary doctorate of humane letters.
• Greer Fay Cashman
Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein (Wikimedia Commons)Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein (Wikimedia Commons)
16. Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein, Founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews
RABBI YECHIEL Z. Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, has devoted more than 35 years to building bridges of understanding between Christians and Jews and broad support for the State of Israel.
He is recognized as the world’s leading Jewish authority on evangelical Christians.
Eckstein received Orthodox rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University in New York. He holds master’s degrees from YU and Columbia University, where he completed studies for his doctorate.
He serves on the executive committee of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel and Limmud FSU.
On May 20 he was given the prestigious Raoul Wallenberg Award by the JDC “for his profound contribution to the Jewish people as founder and president of ICFJ, an interfaith group that has brought Christian and Jewish communities around the world together and raised over $1 billion for Jews in need in the former Soviet Union and Israel.”
In 2010 former welfare and social services minister Isaac Herzog presented Eckstein with the government’s first-ever Award for Special Contribution to the Welfare of the People of Israel.
In 2012 he was appointed chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Committee on Aliya and Rescue.
Additionally, he has over 50 awards including the Economic Forum’s Jerusalem Prize, the Community Service Leadership Award from Yeshiva College, the Colel Chabad Global Impact Award, and The Jerusalem Post’s annual award at its New York conference in April this year, for his work in building bridges between Jews and Christians and contributing to the welfare of the State of Israel.
• Steve Linde
Tzipi Livni (Marc Israel Sellem (The Jerusalem Post)Tzipi Livni (Marc Israel Sellem (The Jerusalem Post)
17. Tzipi Livni, Justice minister of Israel
THROUGHOUT ISRAEL’S first 66 years there have been certain prominent Israeli figures and politicians whose influence and impact abroad far outstripped what it was at home.
The country’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, was one such leader, former foreign minister Abba Eban was another. Both had more clout abroad, with foreign rulers and audiences, than they had domestically with their own audiences and constituencies.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni seems to be joining this group.
The head of a party with only six seats and no real political leverage, and chief negotiator of a peace process that went nowhere, she is influential not because of any great political sway she wields at home, but rather because foreign leaders like her, respect her and listen to what she says.
Indeed if you want to know what US Secretary of State John Kerry will say tomorrow about Israel and the peace process, listen to what Livni says today.
In January, when Kerry said during a speech at the Munich Security Conference that if Israel did not make peace it would face growing international isolation, boycotts and delegitimization, he was pretty much parroting what Livni had been saying for weeks.
And in April, the day before Kerry testified to the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee about the breakdown of the talks, essentially saying they went “poof” because of Israel’s refusal to release Palestinian prisoners and its announcement of tenders for 700 units in Gilo, Livni blamed Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel for sabotaging the talks with the release of those tenders.
And again in April, when Kerry said that if Israel did not make peace it could turn into an apartheid state, one could hear echoed in his words Livni’s oft-repeated comments about the impossibility of Israel remaining a Jewish democratic state if a peace accord was not reached.
Indeed, when Kerry clarified those statements a few days later, apologizing for the use of the word apartheid, he said in effect, “Why are you screaming at me? I’m just saying what prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert as well as Livni have said numerous times in the past.”
Six years after she failed to form a government after Olmert’s resignation, she still remains influential, though not necessarily because she is poised – as she seemed back then – to become Israel’s next prime minister. Rather, she remains influential because leaders abroad still pay attention to, and put much stock in, what she has to say.
• Herb Keinon
Scarlett Johansson (Reuters)Scarlett Johansson (Reuters)
18. Scarlett Johansson, Actress, SodaStream celebrity spokeswoman
DESPITE HER talent, charm and charisma, seemingly every article about actress Scarlett Johansson leads with one singular topic: her looks.
But it’s talent that should be the focus. The multi-disciplined entertainer has enjoyed a critically acclaimed and commercially successful career with roles wildly ranging from Golden Globe-nominated roles in Lost in Translation and Match Point to The Avengers and the recent Her.
This year, however, Johansson, one of Hollywood’s leading actresses, made headlines for an entirely different reason when she found herself in the center of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
Her celebrity endorsement deal with beverage company SodaStream and her high-profile TV advertisements at this year’s Super Bowl angered the supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, due to one of the company’s factories being situated in the West Bank, in the Mishor Adumim industrial area near Ma’aleh Adumim. After being criticized by the food relief organization Oxfam, the Jewish actress decided to step down from her eight-year role as its goodwill ambassador.
Not only that, she publicly defended her endorsement of SodaStream, telling the Guardian, “No, I stand behind that decision. I was aware of that particular factory before I signed [the contract].... Until someone has a solution to the closing of that factory and leaving all those people destitute, that doesn’t seem like the solution to the problem.” She was referring to the hundreds of Palestinians who work in the factory.
Because of Johansson’s stature and clout in the entertainment industry, the controversy has not appeared to alienate her from her Hollywood counterparts or to negatively affect her career.
• Noa Amouyal
Isaac Herzog (Marc Israel Sellem, The Jerusalem Post)Isaac Herzog (Marc Israel Sellem, The Jerusalem Post)
19. Isaac Herzog, Leader of the Israeli Labor Party
AT A LABOR faction meeting two weeks ago, opposition leader Isaac Herzog boldly compared his party to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The Euroleague basketball champions “proved that underdogs can win, and so will we,” Herzog predicted about the next election.
The journalists in the room rolled their eyes. After all, Labor trails in all the polls.
But the Knesset members around the table did not laugh. They took what Herzog said very seriously.
They are starting to believe. And that very un-Herzog-like swagger may be just what they need.
The party that seemed to be at death’s door when once-prime minister Ehud Barak split it three years ago, rehabilitated itself under former leader Shelly Yacimovich and secretary-general Hilik Bar. Yacimovich was the right leader to get the party back on its feet, but she was not able to take Labor to the next level due to her lack of experience, knowledge and interest in diplomatic issues. Herzog has all those things and more. The son of former president Chaim Herzog is slowly building his credentials as a serious alternative to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
• Gil Hoffman
Ed Miliband (Reuters)Ed Miliband (Reuters)
20. Ed Miliband, Leader of the British Labor Party
LONDON BORN Edward Samuel Miliband, known as Ed, has positioned himself as someone who could become next British premier after the scheduled May 2015 general election.
Miliband studied at Oxford and later at the London School of Economics where he gained a master’s in economics. After a brief spell working as a television journalist he joined the Labor Party as a researcher and was quickly spotted by then shadow chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown for whom he later served as a special adviser.
Entering Parliament in 2005, he rose rapidly through the Labor Party ranks to become a minister and in 2008, a cabinet minister with responsibility for energy and climate change. He made his mark by being heavily involved in drafting two of the party’s election manifestos and helping plan its election strategy.
Miliband describes himself as a new type of Labor politician, and has concentrated his fire on economic issues facing Britain’s electorate, believing in a fairer redistribution of the nation’s wealth. He has worked hard to reform the party and break the much criticized links between it and the trades unions.
The younger son of Holocaust survivors, he often recalls his family’s trials and expresses his gratitude to Israel for giving his grandmother a safe haven.
• Jerry Lewis
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 21-30
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 31-40
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 41-50