Dinner at the American Jewish Congress gala at Cipriani in midtown Manhattan was a thick slice of brisket covered in gravy.
The cut was nearly as thick as the encomiums delivered from the dais to Hillary Clinton, the recipient of the evening’s lifetime achievement award.
“You have impacted the lives of people on every continent, in every nation,” wrote Leonard Blavatnik, a wealthy Ukrainian industrialist and another honoreem in letter read from the nostrum.
“Thank you Hillary, for reminding me to step forward,” said another honoree, Iranian-born socialite Nazee Moinian.
“Secretary Clinton has been a hero of mine for decades, and I thought how on earth could I do her justice in just a few introductory remarks,” said the actress Julianna Margulies, who, in her introductory remarks, traced Clinton’s lineage to her grandmother and great-aunt, the first two women to graduate from New York University law school.
And in case anyone found this a little thin, Liel Kolet, a 24-year-old Israeli singer-songwriter and self-described peace ambassador, descended from the stage and delivered her ballad while practically standing over the former secretary of state.
“All over the world there are children with hopes still burning, in the dreams of tomorrow,” she crooned.
When the briskets had been cleared away and it was at last Clinton’s turn to speak, she used the occasion to give a full-throated defense of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy to prominent members of New York’s Jewish community and assorted dignitaries around the world, a guest list that included such unlikely pairings at Mexican president Vincente Fox and television talk show host Barbara Walters.
In her more than 20-minute remarks, Clinton left little doubt that she would create distance between herself and Obama in foreign policy should she seek the presidency in 2016, while also issuing the kind of robust verbal support of the Jewish state that some Jewish leaders have felt was lacking in the current administration.
“In Israel’s story we see our own,” Clinton told the nearly 400 people assembled inside a converted bank vault. “Israel is more than a country, it is a dream nurtured for generations and made real by men and women who refused to bow to the toughest of odds.”
After proclaiming that it was the longstanding desire of both parties in Washington to seek a two-state solution, Clinton said that she was motivated to help broker a peace deal between Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas “in large measure because I believe the status quo is unsustainable.”
If such a deal remains fragile at the moment, Clinton said she leaned on an old family saying that was a favorite’s of hers and her husband and daughter: “Get caught trying.”
But Clinton spent the bulk of her remarks explaining in detail how the administration sought a deal with Iran to curb their efforts to build a nuclear weapon.
The former secretary of state described Iran as being increasingly marginalized and boxed in by the Obama administration’s efforts to isolate them to the point where it became tenable to pursue a negotiated agreement. If the deal fell through, “ the rest of the world would see Iran as the intransigent ones, not us.”
The event was something of homecoming for Clinton, a senator from New York before becoming secretary of state, and she noted even though she pursued an agreement in her most recent job, in her previous one, “I voted for every sanction that came down the pike against Iran. I did whatever we could to change the calculus of the Iranian leadership.”
Clinton urged Congress not to add to more sanctions against the Iranian leadership, for fear that the shaky agreement now in place will fall through, but pledged that Iran should never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. If negotiations fail, “every option should be on the table,” she said.
“Will Iran end up like North Korea or like South Korea? Only they can answer a question like that.”
The question that continues to follow Clinton, however, as she enjoys her State Department retirement—whether, and when she would announce a run for president—remained unanswered, although Jack Rosen, the American Jewish Congress’s president and a friend of the Clintons since their Arkansas days, noted at one point that perhaps a lifetime achievement award was premature.
(Before the event, Rosen, a major donor to Democratic causes, told The Daily Beast: “I don’t know whether she will or she won’t, but I know that she is preparing to run.”)
Clinton though revealed little about her personal plans, and only slightly more about her personal life. She said, for example, that she is a big fan of Margolis’s show The Good Wife.
“It’s a great show. It’s exciting for me as a recovering lawyer to watch her in the courtroom.
“The only conflict is when it is against Downton Abbey,” she added. “Thank God for TiVo.”