Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Stevie Wonder Absence, Jason Alexander Encore Mark IDF Gala, Millions Raised

December 11, 2012 4:05 pm 2 comments

Former Seinfeld star Jason Alexander speaks at the Dec. 6 Friends of the Israel Defense Forces gala in Los Angeles, for which he was the emcee. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld.

LOS ANGELES—While one celebrity backed out of public support for the Israeli military, another came back for an encore—but not without an atypical script.

Notoriously absent from the Dec. 6 Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region gala was singer Stevie Wonder, who canceled his performance following a recommendation from the United Nations, plus pressure from Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists who gathered more than 4,600 signatures online.

At the same time, former “Seinfeld” star Jason Alexander emceed FIDF’s Los Angeles fundraiser for the third time. Since 2009, Wonder has been a “United Nations Messenger of Peace.” Alexander, meanwhile, is a prominent public supporter of the nonprofit OneVoice, whose stated goal is to foster an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution that “ends the occupation, ensures security and peace for both sides, and solves all final-status issues in accordance with international law and previous bilateral agreements.”

As the face of a group that associates Israel with “occupation,” Alexander could have followed Wonder in playing the “peace card” and dropping out of the FIDF event. Why didn’t he?

“I don’t have any official rules with OneVoice about what I can and can’t do,” Alexander told JNS.org at the gala. “There’s a general direction that we take, but I don’t know what it is to be a UN ambassador of peace [like Wonder], that sounds like a big thing. And from my understanding, I’ve been at many, many benefits where he has performed, for all kinds of causes, some popular, some less popular—I don’t think this is a decision he made lightly.”

The FIDF gala, chaired by Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban and his wife Cheryl, raised more than $14 million and featured surprise musical performances by American Idol winner Ruben Studdard and 10-time Grammy Award winner Chaka Khan to fill the void left by Wonder.

But the most stage time went to Alexander, who praised IDF soldiers in his public remarks throughout the night, and told JNS.org they are “some of the finest, most humane, most admirable, most noble-serving soldiers that I’ve ever seen.” Yet he took an unexpected approach by devoting part of his opening speech to what he called Palestinian “suffering.” Alexander went on to tell the crowd of 1,400 that, despite his views on the Palestinians, there “can never be any doubt that I am also an advocate for Israel.” The actor elaborated on that comment privately.

“My experience of most Israelis, and even most Israeli supporters, [is that] they understand the two sides of the story,” he told JNS.org. “You can’t have a conflict without two sides. So, acknowledging that there’s another side [in my speech] doesn’t seem to me that risky.”

Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel education group StandWithUs, said she thought it was “inappropriate for [Alexander] to make that speech at the beginning of this event.”

“He’s here as a guest and he’s emceeing this event,” Rothstein told JNS.org.

From left to right, at the Dec. 6 FIDF gala in Los Angeles: FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, FIDF National Board Member and major supporter Haim Saban, 16-Time Grammy winner David Foster, and major FIDF supporter Cheryl Saban with members of the Israeli and American armed forces. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld.

Others were more comfortable with Alexander’s approach. Dr. Robert Stearns—head of the pro-Israel evangelical Christian group Eagles’ Wings and one of the gala’s speakers—told JNS.org, “I believe that Israel embodies the values of social justice, of human rights, of the best of humanity, and I see no contradiction in standing strong with Israel and also believing that there is a better future that is possible for the Arab communities.”

Sharon Levinson, executive director of the nonprofit Act for Israel, understood Alexander’s perspective within the context of Israel’s culture of diversity and humanity.

“I don’t spend my time advocating for them, it’s not my cause, but I don’t know a lot of Israelis that sit at home and gloat when Palestinians hurt,” she said.

When it came to Wonder, however, Levinson was much more alarmed. The singer’s move “really signals that it’s time for the community to unite and respond,” she said.

“Our voice cannot be silent,” she said. “Because what happens is, the BDS activists use the celebrities not just to coerce and intimidate, but they also use all their social network channels as tools to spread the propaganda and misinformation, and it’s a lot of misinformation. Because it doesn’t matter what your political views are, Israel is not apartheid.”

BDS activists who push outcomes such as Wonder’s boycott are taking a one-sided look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rothstein said.

“It’s extremist to punish one side in a conflict to begin with,” she said. “So they’re trying to punish Israel and they’re omitting the story of the rockets, or Hamas, or the extremism. What must be their end goal here if they omit the story and they don’t care about the Israeli children, they only care about the Palestinian children?”

Stearns said Wonder’s cancelation was “based on misinformation and a lack of an educated perspective on the facts.”

“I think Stevie Wonder is a good man, and wants to do good, and has wrong information, and so it makes our job of getting the right information [about Israel], the truth of the matter, out there even more important,” Stearns said.

What, then, is the right information? Shawn Evenhaim, chairman of the board of the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), told JNS.org that people “need to understand what the FIDF is about and how Israel handles the military in general,” citing the Israeli military’s desire to avoid civilian casualties and target only terrorists, compared with the Palestinians’ disregard for that moral code.

“People don’t know the real story,” Evehaim said. “The problem is, it’s really hard to tell a story when you have an F-16 and someone with a rocket that doesn’t do a lot of damage. But you know that rocket is shooting into a kindergarten and into a school, and that F-16 is trying to aim exactly at the one guy they want to take down. That’s the big difference.”

Alexander, when speaking to JNS.org, added his admiration for the fact that IDF soldiers—unlike Americans—”don’t get a choice about volunteering” and don’t get to “choose their own paths.”

Nevertheless, there are some people who “do not understand why I continue to come to this event,” Alexander said of his three times emceeing the FIDF gala.

“They don’t understand first of all what [FIDF] is, and they see it as just a blanket support for Israeli military, and they don’t understand how I can say that I’m an advocate for both sides,” he said. “And given the fact that there are eyes on this event tonight, I thought it was important to get up and say, ‘This is why I can advocate for this group and I can advocate for Israel, and I’m not blind to the fact that we’re in conflict, and I hold everyone equally accountable, and I hold everyone equally to my heart.'”

Those evenhanded views on the conflict, however, were exactly why a pro-Israel leader such as Rothstein was critical of Alexander that night. The actor “doesn’t really get it” when it comes to the conflict and specifically needs to understand that Israelis “are caught between a rock and a hard place” due to Palestinian terror, Rothstein said.

“They’re taking rockets in their cities, so at a certain point they have to respond,” Rothstein said.

Rothstein did commend Alexander for pointing out in his speech that “the Palestinian people are not at fault, the Israeli people are not at fault.”

“He’s right about the piece that instead of blaming the Palestinian people, he would like to blame Hamas,” she said. “So I thought that was good. You always have to separate the people from the government.”

2 Comments

  • Don’t be fooled by the toupee. He’s bald.

  • Alexander should wake up and realize that there are not “two sides” …anymore then there were “two sides” to Auschwitz….The HAMAS CHARTER, THE HEZBOLLAH CHARTER and the PLO ( now FATAH) CHARTERS all call for the murder of six million Jews. Any Muslim anywhere who has ever supported any of these organizations in any way is equally sociopathic and without redeeming human value. Sorry Jason there are not “two sides” when you are talking about the genocide of six million Jews.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Book Reviews Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    JNS.org – “Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, As Close to Us as Breathing. The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times,W Magazine, NPR, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    The Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour, which started on Friday in New York City, features a mini-documentary about an elderly Jewish woman whose journey away from Orthodoxy leads her to taste forbidden food for the first time in her life. In Canadian director Sol Friedman’s Bacon & God’s Wrath, Razie Brownstone talks about ending her lifelong observance of keeping kosher as her 90th birthday approaches. The recently declared atheist said the discovery of the search engine Google spurred a lapse in her Jewish faith and made her decide to […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Food Chabad Rabbi From New York Competes on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ Cooking Competition

    Chabad Rabbi From New York Competes on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ Cooking Competition

    A Chabad rabbi from Rhinebeck, NY, will face off a priest, a pastor and a nun-in-training in an upcoming episode of the Food Network‘s reality show, “Chopped,” Lubavitch.com reported. Rabbi Hanoch Hecht – who teaches up-and-coming chefs about the intricacies of kosher dietary laws at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) — was nominated for the show by a professional chef, and went through a rigorous interview process at the Food Network’s studios in Chelsea, NY. Months later, he was informed he had been accepted as a contestant in the popular TV cooking competition. “I thought […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief (BOOK REVIEW)

    Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief (BOOK REVIEW)

    Religion, Politics and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief by Asaf Romirowsky & Alexander H. Joffe (Palgrave Macmillan; 2013) Although this book came out several years ago, it remains pertinent. This is a meticulously researched book that concentrates on a very small bit of history: the time period from 1948-50 when the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group, was organizing refugee relief in Gaza. Before UNRWA, the UN created the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees (UNRPR). It outsourced […]

    Read more →