Mort Zuckerman

By AIFL - Jul 7, 2015

[caption id="attachment_1350" align="alignleft" width="139"]Mortimer-Zuckerman Honorary AIFL President Mortimer Zuckerman[/caption] A hallmark of the America-Israel Friendship League is the inclusion into its ranks of unusually gifted and devoted individuals who give of their time and resources, in order to make the world a safer and more peaceful place. Mort Zuckerman is one of those people, albeit quietly and with as little fanfare as a media mogul can assume. The Canadian-born Zuckerman, co-founder and former CEO of Boston Properties, has used his platforms for good, and continues to do so. As owner of the New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report, Zuckerman is a voice for morality, especially as it relates to countering threats to freedom around the world. He is also the honorary president of the AIFL, a posting for which current Chairman Kenneth Bialkin is most grateful. “He’s devoted, wholly apart from his philanthropies, which are formidable…to the greater good,” says Bialkin. “He doesn’t seek credit for it. To me, he’s one of the people I rely on for insight, advice, direction and leadership.” Zuckerman, an achiever who was born in Montreal, Canada, graduated from McGill University in 1957, with a B.A. He then began studies at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned an M.B.A. He also received a degree from Harvard Law School in 1962. During professorships at Harvard and Yale University, Zuckerman began to develop a keen interest in business, especially media opportunities. In 1984, he purchased U.S. News & World Report, and remains its editor-in-chief. Zuckerman has also served (from 2001 to 2003) as chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “When he finished his term as chairman of the Conference and came back, he is now honorary president of the AIFL and continues to be one of the people I talk to whenever I have an important decision to make. His commitment to Israel and the Jewish people, I would say, is a major focus of his life, for which I respect him without limit.” The teamwork forged between Zuckerman, Bialkin, and the rest of the AIFL team coalesced almost two decades ago, when a high-level request came in. “Sometime in the late ‘90s each of us was contacted by the [Israeli] consul general of New York to ask if we would come in to help with the promotion of the AIFL,” Bialkin remembers. “The way I like to say it is, I would do it if Mort would do it. I was going to be the chairman and he was going to be the president and I expected him to do all the work!” All joking aside, the duo remained close while walking different paths for a time, according to Bialkin. “What happened was, there was an opportunity for Mort to be elected as chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and when he became that, those duties subsumed his time. “He did a magnificent job, devoted himself to it. Because if you do that post properly…well, it made him a spokesperson on Israeli related things for American Jewish issues. That really launched him into what he’s become, which is like so many of us who become active in Jewish life—once you’re in you never leave it. Mort is one of a handful of people of continuing influence and importance in I would say the pro Israel world.” For his part, Zuckerman is humbled to play such a role, and its continuing importance is never lost on him. His role with the AIFL is dear to his heart. “It’s played an important role in that it is an organization to improve the relationship between Israel and the United States,” says Zuckerman. “The thing that drove my efforts was this common bond, and I’m happy to be involved with the AIFL.” Zuckerman relishes the opportunity to serve. “When I was involved, I thought that both the AIFL and when I became chairman of the Conference…those were the most important roles. America is the best ally Israel has and without that, Israel can do very little. “That’s a real problem, especially at a time when Israel is under great pressure, be it from Iraq or Gaza, or proxies being used as front-men.” Zuckerman views the work of the AIFL, in fostering better understanding between Israel and America, as a vital element in keeping the world safer. “I’ll put it this way: I think it is very important that there is more than one audience we should focus on. Number one: senior government officials. Number two: public opinion. Some would say the latter is the foundation of what affects the former. We need to continually develop that relationship.” In a tumultuous time, Zuckerman is a realist, but also optimistic that Americans “get” Israel: “I think there is a very strong support for Israel in America. Most Americans understand that Israel is a democracy, because it is of the people. The American people understand that Israeli values are much more in the wheelhouse of the American values than those in the Arab world.” Zuckerman and Bialkin recently took part in a panel discussion during a presentation at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons. The subject was, “Crisis in the Middle East: The Road Ahead.” Writing in the East Hampton Star, Christopher Walsh noted the mixture of hope and pessimism among the panelists, in articulating the dangers posed to Israel and the West: “Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd, Mortimer Zuckerman, an East Hampton resident who is the publisher of the New York Daily News and editor in chief of U.S. News and World, expressed the panelists’ united defense of the Israeli military’s conduct in the war. Hamas, Mr. Zuckerman said, the militant group that governs Gaza and does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, launched missiles at Israel from densely populated areas, effectively using civilians as human shields. He also sought to provide context to reports that more than 2,000 Palestinian civilians had been killed in the war by noting that 378,000 German civilians and 580,000 Japanese civilians were killed in World War II. “’This is not a moral strike against Israel,’ he said. Other panelists said the criticism of Palestinian casualties ignores what they said were the extraordinary measures taken to warn of impending action through leaflets, text messages, and telephone calls.” Zuckerman, who toured one of the tunnels used by Hamas to threaten Israel, is deeply involved in such efforts to discuss and disseminate necessary information to the public. His efforts are multi-layered and ongoing, a fitting place for the one-time helper in his father’s Montreal tobacco and candy store. Zuckerman’s dedication to his people, and to all freedom-loving people the world over is inspiring and appreciated by many.