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Hollywood’s elite turned out in force for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance’s annual national tribute dinner on Thursday night — Jews and non-Jews alike — as the two organizations, which are both led by Marvin Hier, a rabbi who has won two Oscars, honored CBS chief Leslie Moonves with its 2018 Humanitarian Award at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.
Wndrco partner Jeffrey Katzenberg and NBCUniversal vice-chair Ron Meyer co-chaired the event, as they have for some 25 years, and other power players in attendance included Paramount chief Jim Gianopulos, Warner Bros. chief Kevin Tsujihara, producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Brian Grazer, former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Pat Riley and Gary Barber, who was ousted earlier this week from his job as CEO of MGM.
CBS late-night star James Corden hosted the gathering, which packed the Beverly Hilton’s fabled international ballroom, where the annual Golden Globes and many other Hollywood award ceremonies take place. Corden’s boss Moonves, an actor-turned-executive, was accompanied by his wife, TV personality Julie Chen, and his 96-year-old father, among other relatives and friends.
In addition to Moonves, two other individuals were also honored, with medals of valor.
The first was Raheel Raza, a Pakistani-born Muslim who has fought against radical Islamic extremism at great risk to her own life. Raza, who has a fatwa against her, noted in her acceptance speech, “On an extremist website that is frequented by the likes of ISIS and their ilk, I am listed as the sixth-most-hated Muslim activist in the world.” She added, to great applause, “And you know what? I plan to become No. 1, because it’s only then that I will know that I have won.”
The second honoree was a posthumous one: David Ben-Gurion, who, 70 years ago, helped to found the state of Israel en route to becoming its first prime minister. Ben-Gurion’s grandson, Alon Ben-Gurion, accepted on behalf of his grandfather, who died in 1973. (In a rather remarkable coincidence, Moonves later shared that he is actually a great-nephew of David Ben-Gurion: “My grandfather and Alon’s grandmother were brother and sister.”)
Katzenberg, in introducing Moonves, revealed some interesting information. “I want to let you in on a little secret,” he said. “When Steven Spielberg and David Geffen and I founded DreamWorks in 1994, we asked Les to be our fourth partner. … Quite sadly for us, Les passed. That was our loss, for sure.” He added, “Les, your Uncle David, I’m quite certain, would be very proud of you tonight, as we all are.”
“Honestly, this is one of those honors that makes a person feel humble, and anybody who knows me knows that’s really saying something,” Moonves cracked upon being presented with his award. He continued, more seriously, “This honor isn’t really about who receives it. It’s about the people with the moral standing to build, work at and sustain the Wiesenthal Center. So I’m most happy about this event because of what it gives us an opportunity to support. What they do here at the Center and at its Museum of Tolerance is more important now — you heard Jeffrey say it, you heard Rabbi Hier say it — it’s more important right at this very moment maybe than it’s ever been.
“We look at a world today where there are forces, powerful forces, that are tolerant all right,” he continued. “They’re tolerant of the wrong things — tolerant of racism, tolerant of anti-Semitism, of violence, of hatred — be it the right-wing parties going up in Europe, or the newly re-elected czar of Russia [Vladimir Putin], wondering whether it was the Jews who were to blame for meddling in the United States election, or the swastikas that were discovered right down the road in Van Nuys. The world seems to be moving in a very dangerous direction. Instances of anti-Semitism in the United States were up more than 60 percent in 2017, and a lot of that was at high schools and on college campuses. This organization battles that. It stands up for true tolerance. It celebrates and teaches genuine tolerance for each other’s beliefs and for our differences. And, in doing so, it has taught millions to reject hatred, violence and racism. There is no more important lesson, as we stand here today.”
Moonves then referenced a recent visit that he and colleagues took to the Museum of Tolerance, during which they pondered the rise of hatred that culminated in the Holocaust. “Could such a thing happen now?” he asked. “A few years ago, I probably would have said, ‘Absolutely not.’ But today, with authoritarian regimes gaining traction just about everywhere around the world, I’m just not so sure. So tonight we celebrate and honor an absolutely essential institution hard at work to make sure that decency and sanity does prevail.”
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