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“We better stand up and kick these guys in the ass,” movie mogul Harvey Weinstein said about present-day anti-Semites as he accepted the Humanitarian Award at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s National Tribute Dinner on Tuesday night at the Beverly Hilton. “We’re gonna have to get as organized as the mafia,” he continued. “We just can’t take it anymore [from] these crazy bastards.”
At the conclusion of a ceremony that celebrated four Jewish and gentile heroes (several posthumously), and at which more than a dozen Holocaust survivors were asked to stand and be applauded, Weinstein was introduced by his longtime friend and competitor Jeffrey Katzenberg — the event’s master of ceremonies — and Christoph Waltz. The actor has twice won the best supporting actor Oscar for roles in Weinstein films, the first time for portraying a Nazi in Inglourious Basterds. Weinstein said to hearty applause, “Too bad movies can’t all be like Inglourious Basterds, where Hitler gets what he deserves.”
Weinstein, 63, then went off-script to speak about his father, who was a sergeant stationed in Cairo during World War II. The elder Weinstein aided the Haganah (the precursor to the IDF before Israel was a state) and later taught his sons about anti-Semitism. Weinstein emphasized his concern about anti-Semitism around the world, which Wiesenthal Center studies indicate is at its highest levels since the end of World War II.
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“I’m upset when I read The Atlantic Monthly‘s headline that says, ‘Should the Jews leave Europe?’ — a resounding ‘no’ on my end — and [New York Times columnist] David Brooks today talking about how to combat anti-Semitism,” Weinstein said. “It’s like, here we go again, we’re right back where we were [before the Holocaust]. And the lessons of the past are we better stand up and kick these guys in the ass.”
The co-head of The Weinstein Company continued, “I think it’s time that we, as Jews, get together with the Muslims who are honorable and peaceful — but we [also] have to go and protect ourselves. We have to build, once again, back into the breach. There’s a quote from Kurt Vonnegut‘s book The Sirens of Titan and it always was the motto of Miramax and now The Weinstein Company. It says, ‘Good can triumph over evil if the angels are as organized as the mafia.’ That’s how we built our company! And, unfortunately, we [Jews] are gonna have to get as organized as the mafia. We just can’t take it anymore. We just can’t take these things. There’s gotta be a way to fight back.”
“While we must be understanding of our Arab brothers and our Islamic brothers,” he added, “we also have to understand that these crazy bastards [Arab and Islamic extremists] are also killing their own — they’re killing neighbors, they’re killing people from all sorts of different races. And, unlike World War II, when we didn’t act right away and we paid the price, we better start acting now. Trust me, I’m the last guy who wants to do anything about it, but I realize if we don’t, we will perish. We can’t allow the bad guys to win. So, as they say in The Godfather, ‘back to the mattresses,’ and back to the idea that we will not ever forget what happened to us.”
Earlier in the evening, Weinstein was described as “a larger-than-life personality” but also “a really nice Jewish boy” by Katzenberg. The emcee pointed out that Weinstein and his brother, Bob, named their first company, Miramax, after their parents, Miriam and Max, asking — to laughter and applause — “In all the thousands of years and annals of dutiful, nice Jewish boys, how many of them named their company after their parents? C’mon, this is like the ultimate mitzvah!” He also described Weinstein as having “an outsized personality” and “an outsized heart,” and also being “an extraordinary and dedicated philanthropist.”
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Waltz handled the actual presentation of Weinstein’s award. Calling Weinstein a man with “a heart of gold,” Waltz pointed out that the honoree has handled the distribution of a great number of films connected to Jews, Nazis and/or the Holocaust — not just Basterds, but also The Truce, Life Is Beautiful, The Reader, Sarah’s Key, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Imitation Game and the upcoming Woman in Gold. (He then introduced a clip from Woman in Gold — a film about an elderly Jewish woman seeking the return of artwork stolen from her family by Nazis — which opens next week.) He closed, “Harvey’s words, philanthropy and brilliant films inspire all to strive toward righteousness without shielding our eyes from the past.”
NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer, Larry A. Mizel, Rabbi Meyer May and Rabbi Marvin Hier (SWC’s dean and founder, as well as a two-time Oscar-winning documentarian and the only rabbi among the Academy’s 6,000-plus members) helped to confer the award — a menorah-like statuette — upon Weinstein. Other notables in attendance included Vivi Nevo, Michael Milken and Michael Chow.
This year’s gathering took on a particular somber tone in the wake of the ongoing unrest in the Middle East.
“As many of you know, it’s been my privilege to be a part of these dinners for some 15 years,” Katzenberg told the crowd. “Throughout the time, the need for the work of the center has always been great. But I believe that, right now today, the need is greater than ever. Intolerance seems to be spreading like an incredibly dangerous virus — a virus that far too often is lethal.” He listed a “sampling of events” over the past year — rockets fired randomly on towns and schools in Israel, the murder of 21 Christian Egyptians in Libya and the “gruesome spectacle of beheadings by terrorists afraid to show their faces but proud to post videos of every horrific detail on the Internet.”
“Hate can wreck sudden destruction with the blast of bomb or the trigger of a gun,” Katzenberg said.
Tuesday’s gala featured the surprise announcement that an additional $50 million has been raised toward construction of a sprawling Museum of Tolerance complex in Jerusalem. Katzenberg announced the new donation, which he said had come together “over the last few months” and gives the center 87 percent of the new campus’ projected cost.
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Katzenberg said the $50 million includes “a gift of $26 million — the largest gift in the history of the Simon Wiesenthal Center — from Dawn Arnall to name the building in memory of her late husband, Roland,” the billionaire businessman and former U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands. The other bequests include “a gift of $10 million from the world-renowned philanthropist and chairman of the Milken Institute, along with his wife, Michael and Lori Milken… and a gift of $10 million from Larry and Carol Mizel to jointly name the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem campus. A gift of $18 million [came] from one of Canada’s most generous families, Gordon and Leslie Diamond, to name the 1,000-seat amphitheater.” There also was an anonymous $5 million gift.
The planned Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem will tackle pressing issues like the rise of global anti-Semitism, the promotion of human dignity for people of all faiths and the necessity of opposing extremism and hate, no matter where it is directed. The 94,000 square-foot site will house a 149,000 square-foot building, including two experiential museums, one for adults and one for children; a state-of-the-art International Conference Center; a “Grand Hall,” Education Center and Theater for the Performing Arts. The building will be surrounded by the Tikkun Olam Garden of approximately 24,000 square feet as well as a 1,000-seat Amphitheater of approximately 11,765 square feet.
As is traditional at these events, Simon Wiesenthal Center Medals of Valor were presented to an international cadre of individuals who have heroically defended tolerance and human rights. One of this year’s recipients was Lassan Bathily, a Muslim immigrant from Mali, who courageously hid Jewish shoppers at a kosher market in Paris during a tense hostage crisis with a terrorist. Another was Kevin Vickers, who as Sergeant-at-Arms of the Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa, shot and killed a terrorist gunman, saving the lives of many of his colleagues. (He is now his country’s ambassador to Ireland.)
Zidan Seif, a policeman from Israel’s Druze minority, was honored for sacrificing his life to protect a West Jerusalem synagogue from two Palestinian terrorists. Eduard Schulte, a prominent German industrialist and secret anti-Nazi, was singled out for risking his life to cross the border into Switzerland to warn the West that the Nazi regime intended to kill all of Europe’s Jews.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with more than 400,000 member families in the United States. Its Museum of Tolerance on Pico Blvd. hosts more than 350,000 people annually, including 130,000 students. Its “Tools for Tolerance” programs have been the recipients of many awards, including the United Nations Peace and Tolerance Award. The museum also is a member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience and part of their Immigration and Civil Rights Network Southwest Region Immigration Training Project.
Twitter: @ScottFeinberg, @TinaDaunt
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