A giant of pro-Israel activism remembered

Herb Zweibon left an indelible imprint on pro-Israel activism. Our own and future generations were immeasurably enriched by the gift of his long and creative life.

By Moshe Phillips

A true giant of pro-Israel activism in America passed away ten years ago this Tu B’Shvat. Herb Zweibon, the chairman of Americans For A Safe Israel / AFSI, died on Tu B’Shvat, January 19, 2011.

It seems extremely appropriate that someone who focused so much of his energy, money, and time dedicated to bringing peace, security. and prosperity to the Land of Israel should have his life forever connected to a holiday that has at its core the themes of Israel’s agriculture and land, the centrality of Jerusalem, and the importance of contributing to charity.

Herb Zweibon was born and raised in an extended family that was one of the leading pillars of the Jabotinsky movement in America since the 1940s. He was a successful businessman, a loving family man and a highly patriotic American who served in the U.S. military in World War Two. Perhaps those things were all a direct result of his personal internalization of the great pre-World War Two Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s teaching of concepts such as Hadar, self-respect and self-discipline.

No American did more during his own life to make sure that Jabotinsky’s memory was perpetuated than Herb Zweibon.

Here are just a few of the concrete things Herb brought to life to memorialize Jabotinsky:

— Under Herb’s direction the annual Manhattan public memorial event for Jabotinsky was organized.

— Herb was one of the key financial supporters who enabled the late Shmuel Katz to research and write his groundbreaking 1996 two volume biography of Jabotinsky titled Lone Wolf. Katz wrote in his introduction that Herb was “first among” the “group of friends” that provided “generous assistance” to him.

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— In 2010 Herb had a biographical booklet about Jabotinsky distributed called Jabotinsky – The Man And The Vision. It can be found online, in its entirety, at https://afsi.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/JabotinskyPamphlet201007141.pdf

Herb also wanted to make sure that Jabotinsky’s ideals were taught to the young people of Israel too. He conceived of a nationwide essay contest for Israeli high school students and was involved in every detail of this highly successful initiative. The inaugural contest was in 2010 which marked the seventieth anniversary of Jabotinsky’s death.

The Jabotinsky National Essay Contest had 15 winners and hundreds of competitors with an awards ceremony held in the Knesset sponsored by the President of Israel.

In addition to memorializing Jabotinsky, Herb led the way in continuing to focus on key issues that his teacher himself would have concentrated on too, if he had been alive.

Jerusalem remained a central issue for Herb. The Outpost monthly newsletter on Israel affairs featured a front-page column by Herb in every issue and he very often wrote about the importance of Jerusalem’s security.

Herb always stood against any Israeli retreat from Judea and Samaria, the Golan and Gaza. The Jewish communities in Gush Katif did not have a more committed friend in America than Herb. And that support did not end after the so-called Disengagement. Herb’s aim was to make sure that Israeli “settlers” never felt abandoned or alone.

Herb Zweibon remained steadfastly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian Arab state and sponsored speaking tours featuring Israeli representatives who articulated the danger that a PLO/Fatah state would mean to Israel and America.

During Israel’s Operation Peace for Galilee campaign in Lebanon in 1982 AFSI made defending Israel against defamation in the mainstream media a key objective. Before CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) became a national organization and before Honest Reporting was launched, there was Herb leading the way in fighting for truth.

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Under Herb’s direction AFSI produced an hour-long documentary video called “NBC in Lebanon: A Study of Media Representation.”

The Institute for Palestine Studies published a book American Jewish Organizations & Israel by Lee O’Brien called the video “widely distributed” and they were right. No pro-Israel organization in the U.S. had ever produced anything like it up to that time.

Peter Goldman was responsible for the NBC exposé and with Herb’s support he followed up the video with a 1986 book he co-wrote with Stephen Karetzky titled The Media’s War Against Israel: The Full Expose No One Dared Publish that featured an introduction by Congressman Jack Kemp.

Michael Kleiner, currently President of the Supreme Court of the Likud, shared the following with me: “Herb Zweibon played a substantial role in initiating the revolution in the Republican Party which made Israel a central part of their platform. … I had the privilege of being part of the turnabout in the negative approach that Senator Jesse Helms had towards Israel. Together in 1984, we were able to transform him from an enemy to one of our greatest allies. This was the starting point.”

Herb’s enemies were also frequently forced to acknowledge his success. The idea of working with Evangelical Christians in the U.S. to support the Jewish State was pioneered by Herb. Israel basher Grace Halsell noted this in her 1986 book Prophecy and Politics, The Secret Alliance Between Israel and the U.S. Christian Right “…the actual credit for making (the late Senator Jesse) Helms do the flip flop (and become an ardent Israel supporter goes to) a conservative Israeli lobbying group, called Americans For A Safe Israel, (they) did that…”

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Also on this, Michael Kleiner relates: “Herb maintained an ongoing relationship with our friends on Capitol Hill, as well as with friendly Christian organizations, in which he embedded and deepened their natural support for Israel.”

“Herb Zweibon is terribly missed by the National Camp, but more than that, I personally miss him,” says Kleiner. “He was a committed Jew, a leader, and a brilliant man, with a great sense of humor. He was a loyal friend, on which I could always depend. Ten years have passed, and I still miss our frequent phone calls, in which we discussed and analyzed our mutual concern regarding the United States and the State of Israel. Ten years have passed since he left us, but Herb Zweibon will always be with me, and the Land of Israel and will always be missed.”

Ten years after his death Herb Zweibon serves as an inspiration today to many who knew him and worked with him and to those leaders who are continuing his mission in AFSI..

Dalia Pikovsky, the Chairwoman of World Herut commented on the occasion of his yahrzeit this year that “Herb was a father-figure. His kindness, love of Israel, and love of the Jewish People was something that I sincerely admired. He is greatly missed.”

And Karma Feinstein-Cohen, the Executive Director of World Herut, explained that “Herb Zweibon was a role model and an ardent Zionist. He was an example of pro-active Israel activism. His ability to unite people – Jews and non-Jews – in support of Israel was a unique talent. He is greatly missed in the American pro-Israel leaders’ scene, and I personally miss him terribly.”

We all should.

Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s U.S. division.