Thanking one Asian country for its kindness toward Jews faced with annihilation 75 years ago and warning another not to even think about harming Israel, top Jewish officials at a Dec. 11 dinner wrapped up three days of meetings that marked the 100th anniversary of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).
Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., Philippine ambassador to the United States, accepted the JDC’s Or L’Olam Award on behalf of his country for giving refuge to 1,305 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany during World War II. At the same event, Treasury Secretary Jacob “Jack” Lew — the highest-ranking Jew in the Obama administration — cautioned any CEO, general counsel or business executive to “think again” before trying to evade international sanctions against Iran or helping the Islamic Republic acquire nuclear weapons.
About 400 guests attended the JDC centennial dinner at Washington’s Ronald Reagan International Trade Center. The evening, emceed by CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer, also featured short presentations by noted sexologist Dr. Ruth Westheimer and New York businessman Abe Biderman, who recently was elected co-chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization. In addition, participants enjoyed a medley of Israeli songs performed by the University of Maryland’s Kol Sasson choir.
“The Philippines was the only Asian country that voted for the creation of Israel in 1947, and we heroically helped save the lives of many Jews at a time when most other doors were shut,” Cuisia said, as he accepted the Or L’Olam (Light Unto the World) Award from philanthropist Penny Blumenstein, president of JDC.
Among those rescued by the Philippines under its wartime president, Manuel Quezón, were the mother and grandparents of Teaneck, N.J., resident Danny Pins, a disaster-relief expert who leads the JDC’s humanitarian efforts in that country.
“While we pay tribute to the Philippines for its role in saving 1,305 people, we Filipinos also pay homage to our Jewish friends for helping save the lives of our people just over a month ago, when Typhoon Haiyan tore across the Philippines, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction,” said Cuisia.
In addition to more than 6,000 killed, Typhoon Haiyan injured at least 27,000 people and displaced an estimated 3.9 million Filipinos from their homes.
“During this period, among the first humanitarian organizations on the ground was the JDC, which raised more than $1.6 million for clean water and sanitation to victims in affected areas,” Cuisia said. “JDC also worked with 148 members of the Israel Defense Forces deployed in the Philippines, assisted in search and rescue and helped reconstruct damaged buildings and restore water supplies. The JDC also supported the Israeli field hospital that treated 2,800 patients, including 900 children.”
In addition, Israeli doctors performed 60 emergency surgeries and delivered 66 babies, one of whom was a boy named Israel.
“There is a great sense of loss and grief across the Philippines. However, we are able to draw on our faith in a just and compassionate God,” said the ambassador. “We see His face, and we certainly feel His presence through the work of our Jewish brothers and sisters. I assure you that the Filipino people will always
remember the kind gestures you have extended to us.”
Like Cuisia, Lew was honored by the JDC, which bestowed upon him its Morgenthau Award to commemorate the group’s 100 years of partnership with the U.S. government. The son of Polish immigrants, Lew said the U.S. “has a moral obligation” to use all the diplomatic and economic means at its disposal to make Iran give up its nuclear ambitions —while reserving force as a last resort.
The treasury secretary said that in comparison with the cost global sanctions have imposed on Iran’s economy, the relief package Washington offered Tehran under the interim nuclear deal reached last month in Geneva is “quite modest” — amounting to no more than $7 billion. A Dec. 11 report in Haaretz, however, cited security sources in Israel who said the relief could amount to $20 billion.
Lew said the current Iran sanctions framework immobilizes $100 billion in Iranian foreign-exchange holdings while causing Iran to lose $30 billion in oil revenues during the six months the interim nuclear deal remains in effect.
“This agreement does not prevent us from implementing existing sanctions or imposing new sanctions. All of our targeted sanctions on Iran’s sponsorship of groups like Hezbollah remain at full strength, so any CEO or businessperson who wants to test our resolve better think again,” he said.
The interim nuclear deal allows Iran to continue production of 3.5-percent enriched uranium while the agreement is in force, but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, as well as advocates for new sanctions in Congress, believe a final deal with Iran should halt all enrichment.
Larry Luxner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Bethesda.