In his introduction of Bob Iger, an honoree at Wednesday’s National Tribute Dinner that benefited the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance, movie executive Jeffrey Katzenberg praised the Walt Disney Co. chairman and chief executive for taking “the Disney story into its biggest, boldest and most ambitious chapters yet,” referring to the recent 21st Century Fox acquisition.
However, on this night, he said, Iger was being honored for his humanitarian work.
“When it comes to giving, it’s not just about giving of money. It’s about giving of yourself, about showing up and being front and center. … Bob gives as a friend. Every single time I have reached out for him to help, he has always, always, well …” said Katzenberg, the former DreamWorks Animation chief executive, before stopping to jokingly deliver the one exception. “No matter how much I begged Bob, he just wasn’t willing to run for president of the United States.”
In response, Iger said, “As for the presidency, he promised me he would never bring that up again, particularly with my wife [Willow Bay] present.”
The affair at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills honored Iger with its 2019 Humanitarian Award, while raising a record-setting $3.6 million for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance.
Medals of Valor went to Rabbi Jeffrey S. Myers for saving lives at the October attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh; Kurt Kleinmann, for shedding light on his family’s heroism during the holocaust; and Florence Phillips for creating an English-language tutoring program for immigrants to the U.S.
“On nights like this you need a little bit of humor,” said Iger, after thanking participants and dispensing with jokes about his running for president.
Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel obliged, providing that humor on a charming, self-deprecating note, by saying, “Last time I hosted an award show, that award show subsequently decided it no longer needed a host,” referring to this year’s Academy Awards. “And the ratings soared.”
In a crowd of Hollywood heavyweights, dinner chairmen included Katzenberg, Ron Meyer, Jim Gianopulos, Alan Horn, Brian Grazer, Richard Lovett and Tony Vinciquerra, while guests included J.J. Abrams, Katie McGrath, Jerry Bruckheimer, Ari Emanuel, Peter Rice, Chris Silbermann and Dana Walden.
Also onstage were Rabbi Marvin Hier, Rabbi Meyer H. May and board trustees Larry Mizel, Dawn Arnall and Rosalie Zalis.
“Your mission has never been more relevant, your work never more important than it is today,” Iger said of the organization. “Yet today, we are losing ground. Hate and anger are dragging us toward the abyss once again. Apathy is actually growing … How often have you heard the question, ‘What has happened to our country?’ Better yet, how often have you asked that same question yourselves?”
As for social media, he said, “Hitler would have loved social media. It’s the most powerful marketing tool an extremist could ever hope for … The disruptive force of technology is transforming our world in many good ways but also in ways that make it far too easy to deny our shared humanity …”
“We must once again renounce and reject hate in all forms,” he continued. “It is possible to argue policy without attacking people. We used to know how to do that, but today’s rancor has turned the common ground of our democracy into scorched earth. We have to change how we talk to each other and learn to disagree more productively, allowing our differences to peacefully co-exist … Maybe we should just start by reconnecting to those friends and family members that we haven’t spoken to since the 2016 election.”
As for 2020 hopefuls making their case for early support, he said, “I want to hear a pitch that isn’t grounded in contempt of others. I want to see a vision that is big enough to include everyone. I want to be inspired by big ideas and innovative solutions by the personal courage and character of those who espouse it. Leaders must offer a plan for progress that works all of us.”
The 800 guests paid from $750 each to $250,000 for two tables of 10, with proceeds going toward Simon Wiesenthal Center’s mission to confront anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, stand with Israel, and defend the safety of Jews worldwide.