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Ron Meyer Honored With Simon Wiesenthal Center Humanitarian Award at Politically Charged Gala

Variety logo Variety 4/6/2017 Lawrence Yee

The Simon Wiesenthal Center bestowed its highest honor — the Humanitarian Award — upon NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer Wednesday night.

Meyer was honored for his commitment to the human rights organization and its Museum of Tolerance at the Center’s annual tribute dinner. Ice Cube served as the evening’s emcee.

“I know I may not be the most obvious choice to host tonight’s evening,” the rapper joked to the audience at the Beverly Hilton before getting serious. “But we’re not living in obvious times. Racism, we all know, is a disease. It’s a disease that fights your spirit, it’s a disease that attacks your well-being, it attacks your humanity. It tries to make you feel less dignity. So we all have to stomp out racism wherever it is.”

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“Racism really starts with bullying. Let’s not just stomp out the racism, let’s stomp out the bullying in our society,” emcee Ice Cube said. Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

“Tonight, we’ve come together from our diverse backgrounds and personal journeys to stand united against intolerance,” the rapper added. “Recent and ongoing events have only made nights like tonight and this museum’s mission more urgent. So we’ve come together to raise our voices not because our backgrounds and journeys are the same, but specifically because each and every one is unique. It doesn’t matter where we started on our journey of tolerance, we each must decide where we are today, what unites us, and where we want to go tomorrow, together.”

The night’s speakers echoed his call to action. Rabbi Meyer H. May, the Executive Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museums of Tolerance, called out the recent desecration of Jewish cemeteries and “creeping uptick” in anti-Semitic hate crimes as a reminder of the constant battle against hate.

Jeffrey Katzenberg , who has co-chaired the tribute dinner 25 times, added, “In recent times, forces have been released in our country — and around the world — that are intolerant and intolerable.”

The former Dreamworks CEO then quoted Wiesenthal. “Long before the internet, social media, fake news, here’s what he said: ‘Technology without hate can be so beneficial for mankind. But in conjunction with hatred, it leads to disaster.'”

While others talked broadly about the current cultural climate, Barbra Streisand — who presented Meyer with the Humanitarian Award — specifically called out Donald Trump’s administration.

“We are living under an administration that deliberately omitted Jews from its Holocaust Remembrance Day statement. We are living with a president that, in his own words, wants to ban a specific religion. All this while the president praises authoritarian leaders and calls our free press the enemy of the people. This is a president who uses words calibrated to incite the beast in people, not the best in people.”

After her political speech, Streisand called out the best in Meyer, describing him as “fiercely loyal,” “caring,” and “extremely generous.” And she described how his commitment to the Museum of Tolerance was personal, as both Meyer’s parents escaped Nazi Germany. (Survivors of the Holocaust were also in attendance at the gala.)

Ice Cube also praised Meyer, describing him as a “straight shooter.”

“He gives people like me a chance to tell my stories without a filter, without the gatekeepers,” the star behind Universal films “Ride Along,” “Ride Along 2” and “Straight Outta Compton” explained.

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Jim Gianopulos and Brian Grazer flanked the night’s honoree. Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Many other studio executives were in attendance, including NBCUniversal’s Steve Burke, Paramount’s Jim Gianopulos, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, and MGM’s Gary Barber. Nir Barkat, mayor of Jerusalem, and former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also attended.

The night’s other honorees included Reverend Johnnie Moore, the late Roddie Edmonds, and the late President of Israel Shimon Peres, who were awarded the Medal of Valor.

The event served as a celebration of the Center’s 40th anniversary and raised $2.65 million in funding, a record. Attendees also got an interactive tour of the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem, opening in 2018, with the hopes of battling anti-Semitism and promoting tolerance and human dignity worldwide.

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