From onstage at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s National Tribute Dinner and 40th anniversary celebration, Barbra Streisand introduced Ron Meyer, recipient of the Center’s 2017 Humanitarian Award.
She praised NBCUniversal’s vice chairman not just for his success as an entertainment industry titan but also for his affability, his family values and, among other noteworthy traits, their mutual love of food.
The singer, songwriter, actor and filmmaker then went on to describe the importance of the center’s Museum of Tolerance. “Now more than ever, it’s needed,” Streisand said as she began speaking about today’s political climate and the Trump administration.
The event: Held at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, the Apr. 5 affair, hosted by rapper Ice Cube, honored Meyer for his longtime commitment to the center and awarded medals of valor to the Rev. Johnnie Moore for helping to save 149 Christians in ISIS-held territories; Roddie Edmonds (posthumously) for saving 200 Jewish American prisoners of war during World War II; and former Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres (posthumously).
The emcee: “I may not be the most obvious choice to host tonight’s event,” said Ice Cube, who — lest anyone wonder about the connection to the event — named three movies he’d made with Meyer, “Ride Along,” “Ride Along 2” and “Straight Outta Compton,” calling the evening’s honoree a “straight shooter.”
The rapper, actor, songwriter and film producer then spoke about how people’s differences are “just window dressing on top of our deeper shared humanity,” defining racism as “a disease that fights your spirit” and “a disease that attacks your sense of place and well-being. It attacks your humanity. It tries to make you feel less dignity.”
The crowd: In an audience thick with Hollywood heavyweights, those spotted included Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley, Paramount Pictures Chairman and Chief Executive Jim Gianopulos, 20th Century Fox Film Chairman and Chief Executive Stacey Snider, Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, MGM Chairman and Chief Executive Gary Barber, Imagine Entertainment co-founders Brian Grazer and Ron Howard and Academy Award-winner Michael Douglas, among others.
More notables taking turns at the podium were former DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, producer/director Brett Ratner, center Executive Director Rabbi Meyer H. May, center founder and dean Rabbi Marvin Hier and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
The tribute: After enumerating Meyer’s virtues, Streisand talked about the honoree’s “unwavering support for the Museum of Tolerance and its efforts to make the world a better place for all.”
“Current events offer a stark reminder of just how far we have to go,” she said, pointing to the increase in anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States and then, without speaking President Trump’s name, denounced the Trump administration.
“We are living under an administration that deliberately omitted Jews — the word ‘Jews’ — from its Holocaust Remembrance Day statement,” she said. “We are living with a president who, in his own words, wants to ban a specific religion ... all of this while the president of the United States regularly praises authoritarian leaders, while calling our free press an enemy of the people for daring to question.”
Streisand continued: “This is a president whose closest adviser was the editor-in-chief of an alt-right media outlet that trafficked in anti-Semitism and other hateful rhetoric, a president who uses the bully pulpit to simply bully, offering no ideals and aspirations, but insults and accusations, words coded and calibrated to incite the beast in people, rather than the best in people.
“Now is not the time to skirt the facts,” Streisand said. “Now is not the time to hint at the problem.”
The last quote: Accepting his award, Meyer said: “I believe no matter what our political differences that we still live in the strongest, greatest country. We’re a resilient nation, and this is a resilient world. Fortunately for all of us, everything is possible.”
The numbers: Raising a record-breaking $2.65 million, the evening boasted an attendance of 900 guests buying tickets that began at $1,500, or sponsorship packages ranging up to $250,000. Also announced was a $5-million commitment from the Staenberg Family Foundation and Carol and Michael Staenberg for the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, which is now under construction.
Ellen Olivier is the founder of Society News LA.