By Using Wiesenthal Gala for a Rant Against Netanyahu, Honoree Ari Emanuel Lost the Plot

As a result, the gala became about him, and not an organization, as he himself said in his speech, that does “indispensable work to fight anti-Semitism and hate in all its forms,” and that “we need now more than ever.”
May 23, 2024
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Up until honoree Ari Emanuel began his divisive rant against Benjamin Netanyahu at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s National Tribute Gala last night, the evening was everything you’d expect from these kinds of events—uplifting, unifying and hopeful.

Everyone knows that this is what fundraising galas are for—to unite people around a mission, not divide them around politics.

Indeed, in his opening remarks, new CEO Jim Berk praised Emanuel for his “leadership in supporting this event, and our mission” and for “exemplifying how all executives and people of influence should behave.”

The evening, which honored Hollywood powerhouse Emanuel with its Humanitarian Prize, focused on how the SWC is doubling down on its mission to fight hate and promote tolerance in light of the alarming rise in antisemitism since October 7. The videos, the speakers, the honorees were all there to pull at the heartstrings, which is exactly what these galas must do to succeed. By the time you get to the valet line, your heart should be full of empathy for the cause.

In this case, however, by the time people got to the valet all they could talk about was Emanuel’s surprise rant against Netanyahu. There were even boos and walk outs. The story of the rant is now all over the Hollywood press.

You’d never guess Emanuel would have gone in that direction by listening to the powerful first half of his speech, which is worth quoting in full:

“I want to thank the Simon Wiesenthal Center for this honor and for the indispensable work you do to fight anti-Semitism and hate in all its forms. We need you now more than ever.

“This is a painful and crucial moment for all of us who are Jews and who love Israel. It is not a moment to stay silent.

“My connection to Israel goes back to before I was born and even before the state of Israel was founded.

“In 1933, my uncle Emanuel Auerbach died during a massive protest in Jerusalem when a bullet struck him and killed him. Our last name was changed to Emanuel in his memory. I remember sitting with my family in front of the TV watching the first early morning reports when the Six-Day War started, praying that Israel would survive. Less than three weeks later, my mother, my brothers and I were on a plane to be in Israel ourselves. We returned summer after summer for six years.

“Israel is a small country. And in the entire world, there are only 15 million Jews. Precariousness is not something that ever needs to be explained to a Jew. We’re keenly aware of our position in the world — and what can happen if we forget.

“So we have to be better. Stronger. Wiser.

“One lesson of our history is that we must defend ourselves.

“All wars are brutal. Women, children, and civilians suffer. It is terrible.

“Yet some wars are justified. Israel did not start the war in Gaza. Hamas did.

“And I won’t even dignify with a response the outrageous decision by the I.C.C. to equate the murderous attacks by Hamas with Israel’s right to defend itself.

“Hamas slaughtered innocent Israelis — as well as civilians of the United States, Canada, Germany, Thailand, and many other countries. They were sexually assaulted, raped, mutilated, and tortured.

“Hamas has pledged to wipe out Israel. That is its raison d’etre. We all know in this room what “from the river to the sea” means — it’s a promise to eliminate Israel and all the Jews from the river to the sea.

“That is the definition of genocide.

“People who chant this slogan are calling for the end of the Jewish state. Students who say ‘Zionists don’t deserve to live’ are not misguided kids — they’re anti-Semitic thugs. This isn’t about free speech. It’s about right and wrong.

“The world is rightly outraged by the deaths of innocent Palestinians in this war. The UN has now cut by nearly half the number of women and children believed to have been killed in Gaza.

“But there is no doubt the number is still heartbreaking.

“The loss of even a single innocent child is a tragedy.

“But Israel cannot be the only country in the world that has to put up with terrorists on both its northern and southern border who, again and again, openly state their commitment to the destruction of Israel and all Jews, and act on that commitment.

“And who on October 7th broke another cease fire. The sort of cease fire that many are calling for now.

“And where is the outrage about the civilians being killed right now in Sudan, where earlier this month Human Rights Watch warned that an actual genocide could be unfolding? In Ukraine? Where were the campus protests when the Syrian dictator slaughtered his own people? According to the UN Human Rights Office, over 300,00 civilians have been killed there. Where were the protests when the United States attacked ISIS in Mosul in Iraq and thousands of civilians died?

“It is one thing for Jews to hold ourselves to a higher standard. But Israel should not face a double standard.

“Let’s be clear: Israel is not targeting civilians the way terrorists do. Israel is targeting the Hamas fighters who planned and perpetrated the October 7th attacks, who deliberately hide among civilians and use them as human shields, who put command centers and supplies in schools, mosques and hospitals, and who commandeer ambulances to move around. And who continue to fire rockets into Israel, like the 14 rockets that launched on May 10th.  Those are choices Hamas has made.

“They are the ones who continue to make all of Gaza a battlefield.

“Hamas could end this war today. They could free the hostages today. We don’t know how many exactly remain in captivity or alive because Hamas refuses to even release the details.

“Of course, they will not do that. Hamas started this war, and they continue to wage it, and so Israel must fight it.

“But it is up to Israel to decide how. And make no mistake: For the security of Israel and the sake of innocent people on both sides, this is a war that does need to end. Not just the fighting in Gaza but the broader conflict with the Palestinians.

“That means negotiating a political two-state solution that delivers peace, security and dignity for all. This won’t be easy. It will be incredibly hard. But it is not impossible.

“As Yair Lapid wisely said recently, ‘in order to stay the strongest country in the Middle East,’ Israel needs to ‘stay the strongest democracy in the Middle East.’ And to do that, Israel must start ‘the long journey’ to separate from the Palestinians. Lapid is right when he says that separating is not a favor or reward for the Palestinians. It’s for Israel’s own good – for Israel’s survival as a democratic Jewish state.

“The majority of Israelis and Palestinians want the same thing: For their kids to be healthy and go to school, to make a living and live a peaceful life they can pass on to the next generation.

“I know a bit about negotiations. My mother taught me, you don’t negotiate peace with friends. You don’t negotiate with allies. You negotiate with enemies.

“But to get there, you need strong and wise leaders on both sides.”

Emanuel could have wrapped up his speech right there. He had honored the group that honored him, as well as expressed some sharp personal views on the situation in Israel. He could have lamented that “we don’t have these strong and wise leaders at the moment,” which would have made clear where he stood, and ended with a recognition of the strong and wise leadership that was evident throughout the evening.

But instead of gracefully threading that needle, he jumped in with a full-throated takedown of Netanyahu, devoting about half of his 15-minute speech to rail against the Israeli prime minister.

This is where he lost the plot.

“Israel is being led by a man who doesn’t want a peaceful solution. He only wants to secure his own power and political survival,” Emanuel said in his diatribe that is now the lead story in coverage of the gala. “He is an agent of chaos, hatred, division and destruction — and enough is enough.” The rant went on and on interminably.

The point was not whether Emanuel is right or wrong. I’m sure he felt strongly that he was speaking important truths. In fact, for anyone who reads Thomas Friedman in The New York Times, these criticisms are already quite familiar.

The point was that Emanuel ignored a classic rule of Hollywood: Read the room. Call your audience. Timing is everything.

His timing obviously was terrible. He wasn’t at a summit for a think tank. He was at a gala in Beverly Hills for a beloved global organization that prides itself on bringing communities together around a common cause.

His timing obviously was terrible. There were boos. People walked out. Even the scattered applause confirmed the divisiveness of his speech.

Emanuel wasn’t speaking at a summit for a think tank. He was being honored at a gala in Beverly Hills by a beloved global organization that prides itself on bringing communities together around a common cause. Of all people, he should have known that nothing is more divisive these days than politics.

As a result, the gala became about him, and not an organization, as he himself noted in his speech, that does “indispensable work to fight anti-Semitism and hate in all its forms,” and that “we need now more than ever.”

Maybe the honoree can ask for a sequel.

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