Left to right, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Sean Spicer and Ron DeSantis, at the Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala in New York on March 8. (photo by Dave Gordon)
What do an American soldier, a former athlete and a former U.S. press secretary have in common? According to the World Values Network (WVN), they are all – in their own way – defenders of the Jewish people and Israel.
The Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala took place on March 8 in New York City at the Plaza Hotel. The event was led by well-known rabbi and author of 32 books Shmuley Boteach, director of WVN.
Several awards were given out, honouring individuals who, according to the network, have shown exemplary actions to further the causes of human rights and the defence of Israel in the public forum.
Former Olympian and reality star Caitlyn Jenner was given the Champion of Israel and Human Rights Award.
“I’ve been thinking about the Jewish community, and how it has affected me several times in my life,” she said. Her father, William Jenner, was part of the unit that liberated Buchenwald concentration camp. Later in life, he showed Caitlyn the pictures that still haunt her to this day.
Jenner broke the decathlon Olympic record in Montreal in 1976. In the 1972 Olympics in Munich, a then-22-year-old Jenner witnessed the terror activity from an adjacent dormitory.
About Israel, she said the Jewish state’s example “should be followed, as a nation that has succeeded in dissolving many of the prejudices against the trans and gay communities. It is now celebrated as having the best city in the world for gays – Tel Aviv.”
She added that Israel is one of only 19 countries where members of the trans community can serve in the army.
In an overall message of inspiration, she said, “Our communities have no borders and our love is without borders. Every person in the world deserves to receive dignity.”
The Elie Wiesel Award was posthumously given to Yonatan Netanyahu and Taylor Force. Netanyahu was killed in the line of duty in the 1976 Entebbe rescue, and Force was a U.S. soldier killed by a Palestinian terrorist in Tel Aviv on March 8, 2016, exactly two years prior to the gala event.
During his life, Wiesel, among other things, wrote the book Night, in which he narrates his own experience as a young boy in Auschwitz death camp, as well as more than 35 other publications dedicated to the subject of the Holocaust.
In introducing the award, American television show host Dr. Mehmet Oz noted, “Elie Wiesel saw a spark of dignity in everyone that he met.”
In presenting the award, Elisha Wiesel (Elie’s son), spoke about how the Force family is advocating for the cessation of American aid to the Palestinian Authority until the PA stops financially rewarding terrorist acts. It is through the Forces’ efforts that the Taylor Force Law has been passed by Congress and now only needs a signature by President Donald Trump to become law.
Accepting the awards were Yonatan’s brother, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, via a previously recorded video, and Taylor’s father, Stuart, mother, Robbi, and sister, Kristen.
“Elie Wiesel showed such devotion to our people and showed that we control our destiny,” said Netanyahu in his remarks. “Elie spoke to the soul of our consciences. He was a great warrior on the battlefield of conscience, and can inspire many of us on our own quests for justice.”
As for other honours that were given out, Florida congressman Ron DeSantis was given the Falic Family Defender of Israel Award. In his acceptance, DeSantis said he led a trip to Israel last March to look for appropriate sites for the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. The embassy is slated to open May 14, coinciding with the 70th birthday of Israel. DeSantis ended his speech by saying, “At least in terms of the embassy we can say, ‘this year in Jerusalem.”’
Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary, was given the Friend of Israel Award. Of Trump, he said, in regard to how the president would treat Israel, “We knew he was going to be a real friend who was going to get results.”
Dave Gordon is a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications around the world.