American Friends of Likud Dinner Attracts Top American, Israeli Leaders

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Robert Kravitz (L) presents the Menachem Begin Award for Political Courage to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the American Friends of Likud Dinner, Jan. 24, 2012. (Photo credit: Michael Priest Photography)The American Friends of Likud (AFL) 2012 Gala Awards Dinner, on Tuesday, January 24, at Park Avenue Synagogue, may not have been, with 300 guests present, the largest dinner event of the year but it did feature what was arguably the most powerful lineup of speakers and awardees of the season. The reason the AFL dinner boasted such a distinguished guest list is simple: Israel’s current coalition government is led by the Likud Party, which in turn is headed by the Prime Minister himself, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The all-star cast included Donald Rumsfeld, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Israeli Lt. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya’alon (currently Israel’s Vice Premier and Minister of Strategic Affairs), and Dr. Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Minister of Finance. With the presence of these high-profile personalities, the dinner became a platform for many informative and powerful speeches concerning the future of the State of Israel.

Rumsfeld was presented with the Menachem Begin Award for Political Courage by Robert Kravitz. In his speech, Rumsfeld called Prime Minster Netanyahu — a previous Begin Awardee — a “very courageous man.” He said, “Over my last 79 years, I have heard and seen strange things said and done in the name of diplomacy, but I must say that I find it amazing to watch Washington’s current treatment of Israel.” He suggested that the way America currently treats its best friend is the way it should be treating its enemies such as Iran and North Korea. The way Washington denies basic courtesies to its Israeli diplomats, while affording far greater courtesies to visiting heads of state of countries unfriendly to the United States, is appalling.

Rumsfeld stated that, while the current administration in Washington is mistreating Israel, it is not true of the American people. “Know that millions of people across our great nation appreciate and support the Israeli people.” The American people understand that Israel is a country facing hostility from unfriendly neighbors and remains a nation under assault. Assault both from those such as Iran that want to annihilate it and also a “soft assault” from those nations who feel Israel is a nuisance and whose existence is an impediment to peace in the region.  Rumsfeld, quoting Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress of last year states, “Israel is not what is wrong with the Middle East—Israel is one thing that is right with the Middle East. Israel is one of the lone outposts of freedom, economic modernity and opportunity in a troubled and dangerous part of the world. Israel is not the cause of instability, poverty or of the region’s ills but rather Israel’s example stands as a solution to them.”

Rumsfeld concluded by sharing with the audience the tragic story of the St. Louis, an ocean liner that left Hamburg, Germany in May of 1938 with over 900 Jewish refugees on board, and was turned away from the port of Miami and sent back to Germany only to have its passengers perish in the death camps of Dachau, Buchenwald and Auschwitz. He said that while we may not get it right at first, America is essentially a good and giving country, and that we eventually “get there,” and America will stand with Israel.

The recipient of the AFL Award for Outstanding Service in Defense of the Jewish state was General Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, presented by Eric Rappaport. General Ya’alon’s career with the Israel Defense Forces goes back to 1968. Ya’alon gradually rose through the ranks, becoming the IDF’s Chief of Staff in 2002. In 2008 he joined the Likud party and was promoted by Netanyahu to the position of Vice Prime Minster of Strategic Affairs, placing him in charge of security issues such as the Iranian threat. Ya’alon, in his presentation, spoke about the confusion and lack of clarity that exists in Washington and the international political scene, and what he sees as an inability among political leaders to properly identify the challenges to peace that exist in the world today.

Ya’alon explained that there exists a misconception that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is connected with the Arab Spring, the uprisings in Egypt or Tunisia or Shiite regimes such as Iran. There is also a misconception that it is connected with the requirements of ceding of Israeli land to the Palestinians. The lack of clarity, says the Israeli Vice Prime Minister, is rooted in the fact that the world does not understand that the essence of this conflict is the inability of either the Palestinians or neighboring Muslim countries to recognize the simple right of existence of the State of Israel. In the case of Iran, there are misconceptions that there is a direct conflict between Iran and Israel, yet one can find Iran’s fingerprints in such places as Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon, Bahrain and Latin America. The conflict with Iran is not a conflict with Israel but a conflict between the Iranian Jihadist regime and Western civilization as represented by the United States, claims Ya’alon.

 “At a certain point in history,” declared Ya’alon, “we can no longer postpone our decisions. We are now at a defining and historic moment in history and a nuclear Iran must now be stopped.” Ya’alon stated that he is confident that Israel will overcome its difficulties. His confidence is based upon Israel’s strength and resilience based on education, cutting edge scientific development and a strong economy.

Dr. Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Minister of Finance received the AFL Award for Excellence in Government, presented by Sara Biser. Steinitz, who was appointed by Binyamin Netanyahu to his finance position in 2009, is the engineer of Israel’s two year budget. He helped bring Israel’s unemployment down to 5.6 % and its growth to 5% a year. A brilliant academician with a PhD in Philosophy who wrote a textbook at the age of 29, Steinitz moved into Knesset politics in 1999 and in 2003 chaired committees in foreign affairs and military readiness in combating terrorism.

In his presentation, Steinitz thanked Ken Abramowitz, the national AFL chairman, who helped him in his early years in the Knesset. He talked about how Israel was able to stand up against the crash of the U.S. and world economies in 2008 under the leadership of PM Benjamin Netanyahu.  In 2011, the level of investment in Israel, especially in the high tech sector, increased by 35 % over 2008 and 2009. Unlike the rest of the world, Israel’s economy surpassed the 2008 levels. In the past 30 years, despite challenges such as Hamas, Iran and various terrorist organizations, Israel doubled its population numbers, the IDF is much stronger and the economy in Israel is stronger, as is Israeli democracy, says Steinitz. The Israeli Finance Minister ended with praise to Donald Rumsfeld for his dedication to Israel during his two tenures as Secretary of Defense in two U.S. Presidential administrations.

The recipient of the AFL Young Leadership Award was Revital Azulay, presented by Nira Abramowitz.  Revital worked in Israel as a special assistant to Knesset Member Uzi Landau and than worked for Likud in various venues worldwide before coming to the United States. Professionally a teacher at SAR Academy in Riverdale, Revital became Chairwoman of the Likud Young Leadership and revitalized it, making it into the successful organization it is today. The Young Leadership had over 100 attendees at the AFL Gala.

The chairpersons for the AFL event included Ken and Nira Abramowitz, Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie, Daniela Bar Ilan, Dr. Julio Messer, Dr. Gerald Platt, J. Philip Rosen, Martin Sanders and Sharon Tzur. The organization is directed by Adam Fishman.
Photos by Michael Priest Photography

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